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WNBA players kneel after the Washington Mystics announced they would not play their Wednesday night game. Several sporting leagues across the nation postponed their schedules as players protested the shooting of Jacob Blake by Kenosha, Wisconsin police. (Photo: WNBA)

'Strike Is Our Tactic. Solidarity Is Our Power': NBA, WNBA Players Ignite Work Stoppage to Protest Police Violence

"Despite the overwhelming plea for change, there has been no action, so our focus today cannot be on basketball," said the Milwaukee Bucks.

Julia Conley

After the Milwaukee Bucks led several sports teams Wednesday night in a labor strike to protest the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin, NBA players and the league's board of governors were met Thursday morning to discuss whether to continue the rest of the season.

The Bucks announced their decision a day after a white teenager, whose actions were defended by Police Chief Daniel Miskini, shot dead two people and seriously injured another at a demonstration in Kenosha.

"Over the last few days in our home state of Wisconsin, we've seen the horrendous video of Jacob Blake being shot in the back seven times by a police officer in Kenosha, and the additional shooting of protesters," said Sterling Brown, a shooting guard for the Bucks, after the team decided not to play Game 5 of their playoff series against the Orlando Magic. "Despite the overwhelming plea for change, there has been no action, so our focus today cannot be on basketball."

The team called on the Republican-led Wisconsin state legislature "to reconvene after months of inaction and take up meaningful measures to address issues of police accountability, brutality, and criminal justice."

"It's more than a boycott, it's them withdrawing their labor and taking money out of the system and saying the games will not go on."
—Dave Zirin, The Nation

Following the Bucks' decision, the Lakers and the Clippers, two Los Angeles-based teams, both told the NBA that they believed the rest of the season should be canceled. The league decided to continue the rest of the playoffs, but Thursday night's games were expected to be postponed.

The NBA postponed all three playoff games scheduled for Wednesday night, including the Houston Rockets vs. the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Los Angeles Lakers vs. the Portland Trail Blazers.

The strike led by the Bucks was widely reported as a "boycott," but labor leaders and progressives emphasized the key difference between a boycott and a strike—the withholding of labor. 

"It's more than a boycott, it's them withdrawing their labor and taking money out of the system and saying the games will not go on," Dave Zirin, sports editor for The Nation, told Democracy Now! on Thursday. "It's not just an example for racial justice protesters around the country, I think it's a challenge to the labor movement as a whole."

The NBA's collective bargaining agreement bans strikes, Los Angeles Times national correspondent Matt Pearce noted, meaning "the Bucks are breaking their own contract to stop playing in protest of police violence."

"The strike is our tactic. Solidarity is our power," tweeted Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, as labor unions across the country expressed support for the NBA players.

"The NBA is big money—not just for the league owners and advertisers, but for cities and states, too," wrote Ben Beckett at Jacobin. "But workers have power in every single workplace on earth. When workers refuse to do their jobs, their boss can't make money. This is what makes [strikes] worth the risk, as long as you've planned them right. Bosses get desperate fast when the money is cut off. That means a well-planned strike can win major concessions from your boss or the government."

NBA players, with the league's support, have been vocal in recent months about the current nationwide racial justice uprising that began in May following the police killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. Players have been wearing jerseys emblazoned with the phrases "I Can't Breathe," "Black Lives Matter," and "Enough" for several weeks. The WNBA has also made social justice the focus of its season, with players supporting the "Say Her Name" campaign seeking justice for Breonna Taylor. 

Blake was "trying to break up a fight" before he was shot, according to his attorney. His family reports that he is paralyzed below the waist due to the shooting, which injured his spinal cord. 

Following the Bucks' decision to strike, players in other sports leagues moved to cancel their own games Wednesday evening. 

Wearing t-shirts spelling out Jacob Blake's name with seven "bullet holes" on the back of each, WNBA team the Washington Mystics announced they would not play their scheduled game that night. The WNBA later postponed three regular season games. 

"This isn't just about basketball, we aren't just basketball players," said Mystics guard Ariel Atkins. "When most of us go home, we still are black, in the sense that our families matter.... We're gonna say what we need to say and people need to hear that."

Kenny Smith, a former NBA player and co-host of TNT's "Inside the NBA," walked off the set of his show, saying, "As a Black man, as a former player, I think it's best for me to support the players and just not be here tonight."

Three Major League Baseball games were postponed after the Milwaukee Brewers and the Seattle Mariners announced they would not proceed with their Wednesday night matches. Major League Soccer also released a statement saying the league had decided to delay five games, prompting Mark-Anthony Kaye, a midfielder for the Los Angeles Football Club, to correct the record.

"We as players made the decision," Kaye tweeted.

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