An entire slate of first-round NBA playoff games will not be played Aug. 26 following the Milwaukee Bucks’ decision to sit out their game against the Orlando Magic.
The Magic initially took the floor for pregame warmups, but left the arena as the Bucks remained in the locker room. Orlando is reportedly “not accepting” Milwaukee’s forfeit.
The Bucks’ strike comes amid growing unrest toward police violence in the U.S. and an ensuing spotlight on the league’s social justice initiatives during the restarted season. The conversation was renewed after police shot Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wis. on Aug. 23.
In a statement hours after the game’s scheduled start, Bucks players explained their reasoning and asked the Wisconsin state legislature to reconvene after “months of inactivity.”
“Despite the overwhelming plea for change there has been no action, so, our focus today cannot be on basketball,” the statement said. “When we take the court we 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 lawmakers and law enforcement.”
This strike comes on the four-year anniversary of when NFL Media first reported Colin Kaepernick was demonstrating during the national anthem to protest police brutality.
Bucks player Sterling Brown was himself a victim of police brutality in January 2018, and penned an essay about the incident called “Your Money Can’t Silence Me” in The Players’ Tribune in July of this year.
NBA players quickly began showing support for the Milwaukee players on social media as reports started to surface suggesting that the other teams scheduled for tonight would also look to sit out their respective games.
The NBA subsequently postponed the game, as well as the Houston Rockets-Oklahoma City Thunder and Portland Trail Blazers-Los Angeles Lakers matchups scheduled for later in the evening.
Players in the NBA bubble have been invited to meet Wednesday night to discuss “how they’ll proceed,” with the season, ESPN reported.
TNT and NBA TV were supposed to air the three postponed games. Instead, TNT will have a 30-minute “Inside the NBA” studio show from 6:30 to 7 p.m., then fill in the empty NBA game windows with entertainment programming.
On “Inside the NBA,” Kenny Smith walked off the set out of solidarity with NBA players. “As a Black man and former player, I think its best for me to support the players and just not be here tonight,” he said.
ESPN is supposed to show three NBA playoff games Aug. 27 at 4, 6:30 and 9 p.m ET. But network sources said that they don’t expect the games to take place.
The new cast of ESPN’s “NFL Live” broke into their football studio show to announce the Bucks news, with host Laura Rutledge reading it off her cell phone. All of the panelists supported the Bucks.
ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith said he was “incredibly proud of all parties involved.” Still, he noted that the players probably realize there will be financial sacrifice involved.
“Obviously, the networks are going to lose money, potentially. That means the league is going to lose money. That means individual owners are going to lose money. As a result, they’re going to ensure the players are going to lose money,” Smith said.
The strike brings to a head a season during which the league and its players have clashed over how to effectively show their commitment to social justice causes. The NBA landed on displaying “Black Lives Matter” on its courts at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex, and allowed players to wear an NBA-approved phrase on their jerseys in lieu of their last names.
On Aug. 5, in partnership with the NBA Players’ Association, the league announced the creation of the NBA Foundation and a $300 million combined commitment from the NBA’s board of governors for “creating greater economic empowerment in the Black community.”
Some players said publicly that the league’s surface-level efforts, like the jerseys, did not resonate.
The Bucks could just the first domino. As players meet tonight, some might call for all teams to leave the bubble and end the restarted season.
“One player told me today, and other executives absolutely believe, that the season’s in jeopardy,” warned ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski on the 6 p.m. “SportsCenter.”
Yahoo Sports and TNT’s Chris Haynes reported, however, that one “star” player said: “We’re already here. Let’s finish what we started.”
FOS senior reporter Michael McCarthy contributed to this story.