With the most sought-after prize in basketball at stake, the biggest stars of the NBA on Wednesday said they would not take the court. The Milwaukee Bucks — whose home arena is not far from Kenosha, Wisconsin, where a young Black man, Jacob Blake, was shot multiple times in the back by a white police officer — decided they would not play. The Oklahoma City Thunder and the Houston Rockets followed suit. The Lakers and their opponent that night, the Portland Trail Blazers, refused to play as well. And shortly after, the Lakers’ LeBron James, arguably the best basketball player of his era, took to Twitter: “WE DEMAND CHANGE. SICK OF IT.”
How else to burst through the bizarre bubble in Orlando, Florida, that literally and figuratively encases the players’ lives and games these days, keeping them safe from the coronavirus but removed from real life? How else to grab fans’ attention, so lavished on their highlight dunks and three-point shots, and focus it instead on the injustice, the unrelenting violence that people of color face every day even in the midst of a so-called racial reckoning? How else to reach the masses of Americans who tune in to games but not to the problems confronting Black Americans?
This is what you have to do when wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with “Black Lives Matter” doesn’t get the message across, even when you’re famous. After the NBA stopped the playoffs, a cascade of athletes in other sports stopped playing. When the star power hitter Mookie Betts told his Los Angeles Dodgers teammates that he wasn’t going to play Wednesday against the San Francisco Giants, his teammates joined him and the game was canceled. As Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said in a press conference over Zoom: “This is a human being issue.”