The Orlando bubble almost did not see the finish line, not because of a COVID-19 outbreak, but because it seemed that many NBA players were ready to walk away in light of gruesome and troubling murders of Black men by police officers in America. The NBA’s bubble was extremely highlighted by Black Lives Matter social justice reform in light of George Floyd’s murder in June, with the bubble almost ending in August after Jacob Blake was murdered by officers in Wisconsin. The Milwaukee Bucks shocked the world on August 26th by boycotting their first-round playoff game against the Orlando Magic, as they demanded some accountability from lawmakers in their home state of Wisconsin, their team’s ownership, as well as other owners throughout the league. The remaining NBA games were suspended that day due to players’ response to the Bucks’ boycott, with the Lakers game that day against the Trail Blazers included. Later that night, players and coaches held an impassioned meeting which reportedly included LeBron James becoming frustrated to the point that he actually left the meeting all together.
Most of the reporting from that meeting has remained just that, without any validating from LeBron James’ side or from anyone else. LeBron appeared on a special edition of the Road Trippin’ podcast (televised on Spectrum SportsNet), as Richard Jefferson, Channing Frye, and Allie Clifton asked LeBron about what it was like to be in that moment. LeBron James appeared to confirm the reports that he was frustrated in the meeting, and that he was ready to leave the bubble all together (transcribed by Dave McMenamin/ESPN).
“They had made a decision to boycott the game because of what happened in their backyard back in Milwaukee, with another innocent Black man being gunned down,” James recalled. “So I got on the phone with Chris Paul, because their game was next, and I called him and Russ [Westbrook] and I told them straight up, ‘There’s no way that we can go out on the floor as the Lakers and play our game with what just transpired. What are you guys going to do?’ And they felt the same way. … We would look stupid if we went out and played and Milwaukee decided to sit down and we’ve been preaching this solidarity thing as a brotherhood. Because we are a brotherhood. Even when you get blindsided from your brother.”
“When we’re all together as an army, if we’re an army and we’re going out for battle and we say we’re here in solidarity and someone in the front decides to go before we say, ‘Charge!’ Now we’re all caught off guard,” he said. “So that’s what happened. And to be honest, I was ready to walk away. I was ready to walk away. I had called my wife and called my mom and told them that I was probably headed home.”
It was widely reported that LeBron James was mostly frustrated as he was blindsided by the Bucks decision, reporting that LeBron specifically confirms in his quotes above. Either way, the players of the NBA were able to eventually get on the same page and iron out a plan in junction with the owners to improve their responses to the social injustices in America.