On Wednesday, the Milwaukee Bucks were scheduled to play game five of their first round series against the Orlando Magic. Instead, they stayed in their locker room, refusing to take the court in protest of ongoing police brutality, specifically the shooting of Jacob Blake by Wisconsin police.
The Magic, Oklahoma City Thunder, Houston Rockets, Portland Trail Blazers and Los Angeles Lakers followed suit. Then, there were several meetings between players, coaches and owners as everyone tried to come to a decision on the remainder of the season.
What we knew of those meetings were that they were emotional and frustrations boiled over. The Lakers and LA Clippers walked out of the initial meeting after unofficially but effectively voting to end the season.
According to Yahoo Sports’ Chris Haynes, LeBron James was particularly frustrated by the lack of a “formal plan” for the Bucks after the protest. Milwaukee reportedly wanted to resume the playoffs after their initial strike but they did not have a list of demands for the owners to be met before making that decision.
James wasn’t the only player frustrated by the Bucks. Several others were upset that they had not been warned ahead of time and were put in a no-win position, according to Haynes. The Boston Celtics’ Jaylen Brown reportedly came to their defense.
Eventually, cooler heads prevailed. According to Haynes, LeBron felt more comfortable with resuming the season after a conference call with NBA owners, perhaps due to a mutual understanding of what they could accomplish in a support of police and criminal justice report. (On Friday, the Lakers showed their support of California bill AB 2147 which proposes relief for incarcerated individuals helping to fight fires within the state).
“James had already told players he was in, but depending on how the meeting went with owners, he would have reversed course if things went sideways, sources said.
After the meeting, James felt comfortable with returning to the court, sources said. Owners promised that they would get to work on real action items that would benefit the Black community, sources said.
James always supported the Bucks; he just wanted unity and a specific call to action if they wanted to take a stand, sources said.”
Ultimately, no one is truly wrong here. The Bucks were right to protest something that happened in their community and their method likely caused the most disruption and was the most effective means of making an impact. Other players were right in that it put them in a tough spot and James was right that they should have a set of demands to be met before agreeing to resume play. A protest without those demands is largely symbolic and we have seen that previous symbolic gestures from the league are not nearly enough to finally solve this issue.
We will have to wait and see exactly what came out of that meeting between owners and player representatives to really grasp what sort of impact it created. But for now, there seems to be some optimism that the players may have forced some more tangible decisions to be made in the ongoing fight against systemic racism.