The NBA: A Platform for More than Basketball

NBA Players and Teams Respond to Police Violence

The NBA: A Platform for More than Basketball

The NBA playoffs were just around the corner. The battle for Los Angeles was heating up between the LA Clippers and the LA Lakers. Lebron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo were competing for the title of Most Valuable Player at the end of the season. Highly anticipated rookie Zion Williamson was finding his groove with the New Orleans Pelicans. All of a sudden, on March 11, 2020, league commissioner Adam Silver decided to postpone the season amid the coronavirus pandemic. The move shocked basketball fans around the country and the world.

However, three months into the hiatus, just when it seemed as if all hope for the return of basketball was lost, the NBA proposed their neutral site or “bubble” plan to resume the season in Orlando at ESPN’s Disney World campus. The season was set to restart on July 31st, exciting NBA fans. However, prominent Brooklyn Nets point guard Kyrie Irving was not 100 percent on board. The country was currently in the midst of national outcry and widespread protest after police in Minneapolis, MN murdered yet another black man, George Floyd. Kyrie Irving felt that a basketball season would distract from the main issue of social justice in America and ultimately decided he would not participate in “the bubble.” The other players had decided to soldier on with the plan determined to crown a champion for the season. The season was underway once again.

No excitement was lost in the restart of the season. A game between the two LA teams on opening night came down to a final shot by Lebron James to lift the Lakers over the Clippers. The Phoenix Suns, a team that had been lackluster during the season and years prior, went undefeated behind Devin Booker’s heroic efforts. All-Star Damian Lillard exploded for a 60-point game and helped his team sneak into the last playoff spot. The excitement only amplified as the playoffs began.

Unfortunately, another horrific police shooting took place in Kenosha, Wisconsin just weeks into the renewed season. The police shot and paralyzed yet another black American, Jacob Blake, on August 23, 2020. Just two days later, the Milwaukee Bucks, whose stadium is not far from the site of the shooting, chose not to come out of their locker room to play game five of their playoff series against the Orlando Magic. This sparked a league wide boycott, with players hoping to bring attention to the issue of social justice. However, just 2 days later, the NBA had resumed the playoffs even after two of the league’s most prominent teams, the LA Lakers and the LA Clippers, had voted to cancel the season once again. The Milwaukee Brewers in the MLB called off their game against the Reds. The Bucks boycott set off a chain reaction throughout American sports. The decision made by these pro-athletes to boycott their sports in protest of racial injustice has sparked much controversy.

Some people believe that the police in Kenosha had a right to shoot Jacob Blake as he was potentially reaching for a knife. Some believe the NBA players did the right thing in boycotting. Sophia Liem ‘23, wrote “I think given their huge platform, it was necessary to direct fans’ attention towards important issues regardless of individual opinions.” However, many other fans believe the NBA did not do enough. Tino Muneri ‘21, an African-American student , said, “I don’t think the protest accomplished all that needed to be done. Sure, they got some of the owners to make stadium polling stations, but that doesn’t matter if people don’t vote or know why they are voting. I feel as though if they truly boycotted for a whole season and were out advocating, then something could change.”

The NBA’s biggest star of the decade, Lebron James, said he felt blindsided by Milwaukee’s decision to boycott without so much as a heads up to the other 12 teams that were in the bubble at the time. James, among other prominent NBA players advocating for racial justice, reportedly even met with former President Barack Obama to discuss the events that had transpired throughout the league. James called for the owners of the teams to take more action in the fight. He discussed in an interview how he was seriously contemplating abandoning the season but later realized how the NBA could be a bigger platform for advocacy in pressing issues.

However, it was Clippers’ coach Doc Rivers who gave the most powerful and emotional response when asked about the Jacob Blake shooting. He pointed out Donald Trump and the RNC were trying to paint African-Americans as people to be feared. “We’re the one’s getting killed. We’re the one’s getting shot.” Rivers’ tears began to flow as he said, “It’s amazing to me why we keep loving this country and this country does not love us back.”