Won’t Shut Up, Damn Well Won’t Dribble: The Day the Bucks Refused to Play

Following yet another police shooting of an unarmed black man, this time in Wisconsin, chaos broke out in Kenosha. A 17-year old white man terrorist who crossed over from Illinois killed two people, wounding another. The city, a little north of halfway between Chicago and Milwaukee, is the latest epicenter of the tension in our country. At 4:00 pm, the Milwaukee Bucks and Orlando Magic were scheduled to play game five of their series. The Magic players were on the court for their pregame shoot around when they abruptly left. The Bucks had called a meeting. They decided not to play, in protest. Formally, it would be deemed a forfeit. The Magic then left, not accepting that result. The NBA season is once again halted, and this time it may be for good.

I saw the video. I saw all of the videos. From the seven shots fired into the back of Jacob Blake in front of his children to the police-endorsed terrorist murder during protest. I saw the videos. It’s pretty hard to fudge that footage. I know what I saw.

Months ago, when George Floyd was killed, the aftermath led players to consider whether or not the “bubble” was the right idea. Prior to the Orlando experiment, many players were vocal and active in the nationwide protests against racism and police brutality. Some voiced the opinion that playing the games at all would be taking away from what was more important- using their privileged position as public-figure athletes to help amplify the cause. In one article by ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, anonymous players worried that the resumed season would actually be harmful to the growing movement.

The season, of course, resumed. Most players wore social justice messages on their jerseys and coaches wore small placards on their shirts with similar sentiments.

Messages on the jerseys of the Pacers’ Malcolm Brogdon, JaKarr Sampson, and now former Head Coach Nat McMillan

Malcolm Brogdon, a former Milwaukee Buck, was quite vocal during the protests following Mr. Floyd’s death.

And the games were played. Until it happened again.

On August 23rd, a video was shared to social media showing Jacob Blake walking to his vehicle, with police yelling from behind him. He steps into the car, and after a beat, shots ring out. It was filmed, as everything else is in 2020. And that’s just the crux of the whole situation. It’s not that it’s happening more often, though it may be. It’s that we’re able to see it happen. Over and over and over again.

Shortly before the game was supposed to start, Milwaukee decided it wasn’t going to happen.

Not the league, who merely wrote BLACK LIVES MATTER on the court. While the league has been rather up-front about its visible opinion on social issues, the fact that the season restarted at all during a pandemic is reason enough to believe the bottom line was actually the most important.

I love the NBA. I want to watch games and text friends about it and have some levity to this ridiculous age we’re in.

However, this needed to be done. If this ends the season, so be it.

The Milwaukee Bucks, true title contenders, might be pushing the first domino down toward the cancellation of their season. A dream opportunity for the players, team, and city to feel the glory it hasn’t in a generation. Quite possibly, it all went up in smoke today.

I’m not in the Milwaukee locker room now and I wasn’t when it happened. I can’t say if there was an argument or any kind of conflict as to the reasoning behind this decision. What I do know is that they came to the right decision. That the issue at hand is far greater than even the highest glory in the game they love. That to use their privilege, time, money, and voice to help this movement was something bigger than basketball.

Just moments ago, as I write this, the NBA postponed the other remaining games today.

The fact is, racism is real in this country. It isn’t just saying the “n-word”.

It’s in the way we talk about white communities and black communities.

It’s in the way we talk about white athletes as “scrappy” and “hard-working” and black athletes as “gifted” and “talented”.

It’s in the way athletes are told to “shut up and dribble” if they speak out against something and are paraded around on TV if they agree with it.

It’s in the way you’ll hear “he’d be alive/not hurt if he just complied” without an understanding of the nuance of the incident itself.

It’s in the way you won’t hear any kind of helpful rhetoric from the sitting president.

When the Bucks decided to not take the court today, they made an impact. They risked the loss of a dream season, a chance at a championship, and the possibility of polarizing their fan base. That stuff doesn’t truly matter in comparison to what is at stake and what is happening right now in America.

They made the right move. Nothing changes until someone stands up.

The Bucks deserve all the respect.

Black Lives Matter.

6:12 EST Update: the Milwaukee Brewers have followed suit, deciding not to play, postponing their game against the Cincinnati Reds.

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