NBA players put the season on hold so they can lead the fight for justice

The Milwaukee Bucks did not take the court in their game against the Orlando Magic, sparking a sit-in to demand racial justice in the country.

The Orlando Magic took the floor at AdventHealth Arena about 15 minutes before tip-off as they normally would. This was the biggest game of their season. They were fighting for their postseason lives against a daunting opponent.

This was do-or-die, win-or-go-home.

Of course, that is all hyperbole. This is just sports. These are just games. They are meaningless in the big picture. There are bigger opponents and bigger issues that matter.

And those were the opponents the NBA quickly became focused on Wednesday afternoon. . .

The Milwaukee Bucks it seemed had every intention of playing their game Wednesday — arriving at AdventHealth Arena and going through some of their pregame routines.

But somewhere in between that point and the final buzzer signaling gametime, they made a decision that will change sports and this season forever.

It is time to put the balls and toys away. The league — including Magic coach Steve Clifford and several players and coaches — have used their time to try to raise awareness of social justice causes. The Magic teamed up with the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition to urge their fans to vote and take even that minimal action toward effecting change in their communities.

Players and the league hoped their stage and their platform would let that sink in.

But another Black man gunned down excessively and unnecessarily by police officers and another wave of protests met with brutal force by the state — including fresh threats and nods to militant extremists from the President of the United States — only further confirmed their message was not sinking in.

Not nearly enough. This fight requires a lot more.

The Bucks’ absence on the floor Wednesday even caught the Magic off guard. There was no indication from the team they would not play the game. Michael Carter-Williams told Josh Robbins of the Athletic in a statement provided by the team the Magic were happy to stand with the Bucks once they realized and were informed of what was happening.

And so the Magic quickly returned to their locker room. The Bucks never took the floor to meet them. The reality of what is going on in Wisconsin and around the country hit too close to home.

The Bucks sent a message loud and clear by deciding to sit-in, forcing the league to postpone games as the Magic and the other teams scheduled to play Thursday agreed with the message and joined them in protest, halting play during the first round of the playoffs.

It is best to let the players express themselves (please watch the video below):

Those big issues clouded the league as it mapped its return.

They allowed players to put approved social justice messages on their jerseys and plastered “Black Lives Matter” on the courts inside the NBA Campus at Disney. These were aesthetics that also supported actions still going on and being formulated behind the scenes.

The league during its hiatus witnessed the murder of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd. Another in a long line of names that history should never have forgotten as the United States continued to oppress and keep down Black men and women — all while aspiring and advertising itself to be the land of opportunity and freedom.

But it was not enough. Not at this moment. The league, the players and the country needed to do more.

Then came this weekend’s shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wis. The image in plain sight and shared widely on social media of a man reaching into his car with his children in the back seat shot seven times in the back by police officers shook the entire country, sparking protests on the streets.

The nation’s conscience only rattled further when a 17-year-old white man used a gun to shoot at protestors, killing two. He was arrested the next day without incident after crossing state lines.

That only further deepened the sadness and anger felt especially by players from the Bucks. This was their backyard — roughly 40 miles to the south of their city. These were their families.

It was truly personal to a lot of people in the NBA.

Doc Rivers, whose family’s home was burned down by white supremacists when he was living in San Antonio, made an impassioned plea following the LA Clippers’ win over the Dallas Mavericks on Tuesday for respect.

Clearly these men have had enough. And they are now choosing to use their platform for something greater than basketball. They are demanding societal change and an end to the systemic racism that has consistently put them at risk.

Do not forget, basketball players are not immune to the indignity of police brutality and systemic racism.

Bucks guard Sterling Brown still has a lawsuit pending against the Milwaukee Police Department after they tackled him to the ground, tased him and pressed their knee against his groin all for illegally parking in a handicap spot while running into a convenience store. Making matters worse, officers joked about the incident after the fact.

Brown has been exonerated. But how much of that is because of his privilege. How many others might not have survived that encounter or been jailed and forgotten?

That is what is at stake here for the players. This is the personal battle that they are waging for their children, let alone their fellow Americans. Their sit-in and strike are meant to force everyone to come to grips with their reality and the realities of this country.

So many responses online to this is what good will this do? What change will this create?

Beginning to make that change starts with raising awareness and forcing us to talk about it. Their sit-in has done that. We are talking and we are listening.

Whether we want them to be or not, NBA players — all athletes, really — are leaders in their community. To a still-segregated society (perhaps not in law, but still in practice in many areas and for many people) these are likely the most visible and prominent Black men they will see.

Their voices will carry weight however they choose to exercise them. And they are not being silent. Their next steps are not clear, but everyone is watching how they navigate these next steps — and hopefully ready to support them in this just cause fighting for racial justice.

The league’s leaders are demanding more concrete action — the Los Angeles Lakers, LA Clippers, Toronto Raptors and Milwaukee Bucks all seem to want to pause the season. What they have accomplished so far is not enough.

The NBA’s Board of Governors are scheduled to meet Thursday morning. And they surely will have to make some grand and impactful gesture to get the players to play again.

The season is not canceled yet. But that is the least important thing right now.

What the players care about — what we should care about as a society — is whether real change is coming. Whether our fellow citizens — all of them — can walk safely down the street without fear of government harassment. Whether we can live in true peace and equality.

The NBA players are not sitting idly by in their bubble for others to demand this. They are truly leaders in forcing the action and the societal change that will make the world better.

Next: Orlando Magic, NBA players deserve our gratitude

All we have to do is listen. These players will lead us where the conversation and action need to go next.

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