Professional basketball, baseball and soccer teams postponed their games Wednesday after the Milwaukee Bucks didn’t take the floor during a playoff match in a protest of the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Wisconsin.
Top-ranked pro-tennis player Naomi Osaka also said she would sit out a semi-final match at the Western Southern Open scheduled for Thursday.
“Before I am a athlete, I am a Black woman,” she said in a statement. “And as a Black woman I feel as though there are much more important matters at hand.”
The National Basketball Association announced the decision Wednesday evening, citing the Bucks and saying it was delaying other fifth playoff games between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Houston Rockets and between the Portland Trail Blazers and the Los Angeles Lakers.
The games will be rescheduled, the NBA said.
SAY IT LOUDER FOR THOSE IN THE BACK. pic.twitter.com/3UeI9OdU7I
— Bucks In Six (@BucksInSix) August 26, 2020
In a joint statement Wednesday night, the players of the Milwaukee Brewers and the Cincinnati Reds said they were also skipping a game.
“With our community and our nation in such pain, we wanted to draw as much attention to the issues that really matter, especially racial injustice and systemic oppression,” they said.
The Women’s National Basketball Association announced that three matches scheduled for Wednesday had been delayed, too. “We stand in solidarity with our brothers in the NBA and will continue this conversation with our brothers and sisters across all leagues and look to take collective action,” Elizabeth Williams, a forward with the Atlanta Dream, said in a statement representing league players.
In a statement Wednesday night, Major League Soccer said it had postponed five remaining matches for the day. Earlier, two clubs — Inter Miami and Atlanta United — locked arms and refused to play.
Wednesday afternoon, as it came time for the Bucks to tip off against the Magic, the team was still in the locker room.
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It wasn’t immediately clear whether the playoff contest, Game 5 of the first-round playoff matchup inside the NBA bubble in Florida, would be played. The Bucks lead the best-of-seven-game series, 3-1.
A statement from Bucks’ players later Wednesday said they decided to skip the game after Blake’s shooting and after a gunman opened fire at a protest Tuesday night.
“Despite the overwhelming plea for change, there has been no action, so our focus today cannot be on basketball,” the players said. “When we take the court and represent Milwaukee and Wisconsin, we are expected to play at a high level, give maximum effort and hold each other accountable. We hold ourselves to that standard, and in this moment, we are demanding the same from our lawmakers and law enforcement.”
In a separate statement, the team’s owners said they supported the move — even though they hadn’t known about it beforehand.
“The only way to bring about change is to shine a light on the racial injustices that are happening in front of us,” they said. “Our players have done that, and we will continue to stand alongside them and demand accountability and change.”
The Bucks play about 40 miles north of Kenosha, where Blake was shot in the back — and potentially paralyzed — by police Sunday in a confrontation captured on video.
“Some things are bigger than basketball,” Bucks Vice President Alexander Lasry said in a statement a half-hour after the game was supposed to have started.
“The stand taken today by the players and org shows that we’re fed up. Enough is enough,” Lasry said. “Change needs to happen. I’m incredibly proud of our guys and we stand 100% behind our players ready to assist and bring about real change.”
As the delay played out, NBA superstar LeBron James appeared to tweet his support for the Bucks’ protest: “F–K THIS MAN!!!! WE DEMAND CHANGE. SICK OF IT.”
The raw emotion could also be seen in a pregame interview Tuesday with Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers after he was asked about Blake’s shooting.
Rivers mentioned the Republican National Convention and the “fear” that he said its speakers were “spewing.” Then he said: “We’re the ones getting killed. We’re the ones getting shot. We’re the ones denied to live in certain communities. We’ve been hung. We’ve been shot.
“It’s amazing to me why we keep loving this country and this country does not love us back,” he said, choking up.
Last month, Bucks shooting guard Sterling Brown published a story in The Players’ Tribune detailing an encounter with Milwaukee police after he parked in a handicapped spot at a Walgreens in 2018. An officer used a stun gun to subdue Brown, and body camera video showed an officer stepping on his ankle.
In the video, officers could be heard discussing the optics of arresting an NBA player. One called his shift commander to inquire about overtime and then sang the “money, money” lyric from the O’Jays song “For the Love of Money.”
No charges were filed, and eight officers were disciplined afterward. Three got unpaid suspensions, and Alfonso Morales, then the police chief, apologized for the arrest. In his Tribune story, Brown said he’d refused a settlement because he “can’t be quiet” about what happened to him.
“I have a responsibility to be a voice and help change the narrative for my people,” he said.
On Wednesday night, former President Barack Obama commended the Bucks, Doc Rivers and the WNBA “for standing up for what they believe in” and “setting an example.”
“It’s going to take all our institutions to stand up for our values,” he said.
CORRECTION (Aug. 26, 2020, 5:30 p.m. ET): A previous version of this article described Jacob Blake as having been killed by police. Blake survived the shooting and was reported to have been paralyzed.