More than four months after the NBA season was suspended in March due to COVID-19, players from 22 teams made their way to "the Bubble" in Orlando, a self-contained site where players, coaches, referees, media and other staff could resume the season without spreading the virus. Basketball got back underway in July, with a series of scrimmages followed by eight regular-season seeding games and then the beginning of the playoffs.
I was prepared to use this column to sing the praises of the league's experiment – how confining the players has led to not only a lack of cases of the virus, but honestly, a superior level of competition among teams.
And then, last week, something unprecedented happened. In response to the shooting of Jacob Blake by police in Kenosha, Wis., the Milwaukee Bucks went on strike and refused to take to the court for their playoff games in protest of police brutality. Every other NBA team and then teams in other sports across North America followed suit.
I see this as a courageous move by the players. The NBA embraced the strike, but that was not inevitable. By not taking the floor, players put their professional reputations, as well as possibly their careers and finances, on the line.
NBA players are not insulated from racism and police brutality. Bucks player Sterling Brown was assaulted and tased by Milwaukee police in 2018 for improperly parking his vehicle. As a member of the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2015, Thabo Sefolosha – who now plays for the Houston Rockets but opted out of the Bubble – had his leg broken by police in New York City. In 2019, Russell Westbrook – now also a Rocket – confronted a fan he claimed made a racial taunt during a game in Utah. In 2017, a racial slur was spray-painted on the front gate of Lebron James' home in Los Angeles.
These are only a handful of examples. In a league comprised mostly of black men, I imagine many more players – not to mention their families, friends and communities – have experienced both the effects of systemic racism and acts of targeted racism firsthand.
That's why I have no time for people who characterize last week's actions as entitled, selfish or any other dismissive term. This is an issue that directly impacts the players. There are more important things than basketball, and we aren't owed professional sports. Anyone who is a fan of what players do on the court night after night should stand in support of their push for a more equitable society.