NBA Players Flex Muscle by Striking But Decide to Return to Playoffs
29 August 2020
Last updated: 07 January 2021 at 9:50 am
When the Milwaukee Bucks and Orlando Magic were set to take the floor Wednesday, NBA fans, owners, and TV executives were met with a historic surprise.
In the wake of Kenosha police shooting Jacob Blake, a black man, the hometown Milwaukee Bucks unexpectedly decided they would strike and boycott the game. The competing Orlando Magic, originally uninformed about the quick decision, joined their fellow players and walked off the court.
Shortly thereafter, the rest of the NBA followed suit, and all playoff games on Wednesday and Thursday were postponed. Other leagues and sports also joined with players from the MLB, WNBA, MLS, and tennis star Naomi Osaka all refusing to compete.
There were also whispers that the rest of the playoffs would be canceled as two of the most powerful teams the Los Angeles Lakers and Los Angeles Clippers voted to end the season. But after multiple days of postponed games and leaguewide meetings, the players decided it was in their best interest to finish out the rest of the season.
The issue likely hit close to home for many Buck players, as Milwaukee police tased former Buck Sterling Brown in 2018 after being confronted over a parking violation. An officer involved in the arrest was later fired for posting racist comments online about Brown, and Brown called the incident “an attempt at police intimidation, followed by the unlawful use of physical force.”
Power to the Players
In modern sports, never has there been a moment where players took so much power in their own hands. With the Collective Bargaining Agreement expiring at the end of the season, players are nonetheless in a difficult spot if they had decided to strike for racial justice for the whole season.
With a long coronavirus postponement already in the books, TV money and big contracts are at risk if the league has to cancel lucrative TV contracts.
But just by refusing to play for a couple days, NBA players already took a huge risk. The current CBA has a no-strike clause and it could have been deemed illegal by NBA executives.
“Technically the NBPA is supposed to try to put a stop to illegal work stoppages, but uh, good luck with that one,” said LA Times National Correspondent Matt Pearce.
The recent strike shows the widespread support the movement has within the NBA, a sight that could already be seen with nearly every NBA player kneeling before the games in the bubble. This symbol of solidarity quickly spread throughout the sports world from American leagues to Europe and even further afield.
After the immense support shown from the sports world, some were left wondering what the next step is. Since 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick kneeled four years ago and was subsequently blackballed from the league, kneeling during the national anthem has much broader support.
After Kaepernick kneeled in 2016, then-President Barack Obama commented, “I want Mr. Kaepernick and others who are on a knee, I want them to listen to the pain that that may cause somebody who, for example, had a spouse or a child who was killed in combat, and why it hurts them to see somebody not standing.”
Four years later, Obama tweeted, “I commend the players on the Bucks for standing up for what they believe in, coaches like Doc Rivers, and the NBA and WNBA for setting an example. It’s going to take all our institutions to stand up for our values.”
Is “What’s Next?” the Right Question?
Now that players have decided to finish out the season, many executives and owners are likely breathing a sigh of relief. But the near-end to the season has shown that players have immense power to shape their own narrative and take control.
Former player and commentator Chris Webber said on TNT’s broadcast after players announced they would not be playing:
“I keep hearing the question ‘What’s next?’ You gotta plan what’s next, you have to figure out what’s next. Very proud of the players. I don’t know the next steps. Don’t really care what the next steps are because the first steps are to garner attention… so we know it won’t end tomorrow…but that does not mean young men that you don’t do anything. Don’t listen to these people telling you don’t do anything…you are starting something for the next generation and the next generation to take over.”
While NBA players discuss their next plan of action and get ready to compete in the playoffs, likely starting this weekend, their current actions have put a large spotlight back on the issues they care about and dominated the news cycle with those discussions.
Whatever is next, NBA players and other athletes have shown they are willing to risk it all to further their mission with previous calls from star player Kyrie Irving for players not to play in the bubble proving all the more prescient.
Irving’s most ambitious plan is for players to start a league of their own, and perhaps the powers that be within the NBA and larger society will begin to take that threat more seriously now.