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."
Full statement from the Milwaukee Bucks: pic.twitter.com/jjGEyVcCmB
— Milwaukee Bucks (@Bucks) August 26, 2020
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.
NBA players are courageously on strike (withholding labor), NOT boycotting (withholding their $ /purchase). The diff is important bc it shows their power as *workers.*
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) August 27, 2020
"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."
As pro athletes around the country walk off the courts in protest of police violence against Black people, Dave Zirin (@EdgeofSports) says the "strike wave" is "more than a boycott. It's them withdrawing their labor."
"It's a challenge to the labor movement as a whole." pic.twitter.com/sPp2zXhwbN
— Democracy Now! (@democracynow) August 27, 2020
— Tiffany Cabán (@tiffany_caban) August 27, 2020
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 NBA collective bargaining agreement bans strikes, which means the Bucks are breaking their own contract to stop playing in protest of police violence. (But this is your reminder that there aren't really illegal strikes, just unsuccessful ones.) https://t.co/c2g07wXspx pic.twitter.com/4MmNSb8bJX
— Matt Pearce (@mattdpearce) August 26, 2020
"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.
Solidarity with @TheNBPA for their wildcat #strike from the union that knows more about striking than anyone! You stood up for all the right reasons today. We are with you. #BlackLivesMatter #1u @KingJames @Bucks
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— United Mine Workers (@MineWorkers) August 26, 2020
Solidarity with our Union brothers in the NBA that are striking — during PLAYOFFS — to take a stand against police violence, anti-Blackness, and racial injustices harming all Black & brown communities alike. You're platform may be big, but pro basketball players are workers, too.
— UNITE HERE (@unitehere) August 26, 2020
"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.
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.
"We're not just basketball players. We're so much more than that."
— Washington Mystics (@WashMystics) August 26, 2020
"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."
"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."
Kenny Smith walked off the TNT set in solidarity with the NBA players' strike of tonight's games. pic.twitter.com/HgurJPqHKB
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) August 26, 2020
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. Fix this, please give the right narrative. https://t.co/0Qhb8L7dMc
— Mark-Anthony Kaye (@MarkThEwizz) August 27, 2020
"We as players made the decision," Kaye tweeted.