Why The NBA Boycott Is A Huge Moment For Black Lives Matter
NBA courts were left empty during this season’s playoffs as a response to the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Wisconsin.
Teams boycotted gameplay as further Black Lives Matter protests erupted across America, which led to a complete hiatus of the playoffs.
It was a massive moment for the NBA – that despite their contracts, salaries, and even a global pandemic not being able to stop their sport, athletes at the top of their field were walking away from the game as a result of social injustice.
Pro-sport – and the NBA in particular – has always had a strong relationship with human rights and activism.
The NBA’s History With Activism
The NBA is one of the most watched leagues in the world, and players in the past have used their platform to speak out against police brutality and racial injustice.
In 1968, basketball star Bill Russel marched in protest over the death of Martin Luther King and in 1959 Elgin Baylor boycotted games because of segregated hotels.
Footage of Jacob Blake being shot in the back seven times by a police officer is what prompted this latest NBA activism.
As the outside world spiralled into fiery protests, inside the NBA bubble Milwaukee Bucks players refused to come out of their locker room for a playoff game against Orlando Magic.
Roy Ward: “The Milwaukee Bucks made their protest separate to anyone else. They didn’t call the players association or the other teams. They did it in the moment because they were so aggrieved by it. It was a big, big step. And I think that’s what’s shaken up a lot of the owners and league management.”
That’s Roy Ward, a sports journalist for The Age, who’s been covering this NBA season closely.
COVID-19 forced the league to shut down back in March. But an NBA hub was created at Disney World in Florida so that play could continue, which Roy explained to me went ahead for political purposes as well.
RW: “Part of the reason they joined the hub was because they wanted to also use it as a vehicle to promote Black Lives Matter.”
So, What’s Happening Now?
After the police killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, players have been protesting by kneeling during every national anthem and wearing uniforms with social justice messages for their audiences at home to see.
Even Aussie Patty Mills only agreed to play if he could donate his earnings to BLM back here in Australia.
But following the most recent shooting of Jacob Blake, Bucks player Sterling Brown read out a team statement saying that “despite the overwhelming plea for change, there have been no actions, so our focus cannot be on basketball”.
Brown has been on the receiving end of the police brutality himself, when he was arrested and tasered by police back in 2018.
LA Clippers coach Doc Rivers gave an emotional statement pointing out that players had every right to be upset and want to stop playing.
After a series of tense negotiations, the decision was made for games to resume. Roy told me that the NBA could’ve lost billions of dollars if their players continued refusing to play.
RW: “Part of the agreement to return to the courts and finish the playoffs was that the teams would do more to encourage voting.
One of the things that teams and the players agreed on, was [to] make the stadiums – which are all very big venues and centralised in the middle of these big cities – voting venues.”
The country’s former president Barack Obama, is said to have stepped in to help the players come to the agreement to increase voter access, which they hope will have an impact on the upcoming 2020 election.
Some people are arguing that this is possibly the strongest initiative to date, to come out of the NBA’s long history of working to ignite social change.
RW: “How do you sort of, do things that don’t just spur on protests but actually spur political change? It’s incredibly complex and difficult. This is just the first step.”
Roy argues that a lot more could be done by the league’s owners (many of whom are billionaires with immense power) both economically and politically.
And that it’s really up to them – the ones at the top – to start listening to their players who want to use the NBA’s immense platform to help create social change.