The Milwaukee Bucks decided to sit out Game 5 of the first round of the NBA playoffs Wednesday in protest of the police shooting of Jacob Blake, a 29-year old Black man, in Wisconsin, setting off a leaguewide delay in games.
"Despite the overwhelming plea for change, there has been no action. So our focus today cannot be on basketball," Bucks player Sterling Brown said, reading a statement on behalf of his team.
Blake was shot in the back seven times as he got into his car with three of his children inside in Kenosha Sunday evening, according to his family and their attorney. Blake is now paralyzed, his family has said.
The shooting, which was captured on video and shared on social media, has led to protests in Kenosha, Madison, and other cities across the US. The video shows Blake walking away from several officers before an officer grabs his shirt and then shoots him several times from behind as Blake opens the car door.
"We are calling for justice for Jacob Blake and demand the officers be held accountable," Bucks player George Hill said, also reading from the team statement. "For this to occur, it is imperative for the Wisconsin state legislature to reconvene after months of inaction and take up meaningful measures to address issues of police accountability, brutality, and criminal justice reform."
Wisconsin Gov. Ton Evers called the state legislature into a special session next week to take up a series of police accountability and use of force bills introduced earlier this year in the wake of the police killings of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd.
It is not clear what the future is for the Bucks or for the NBA playoffs, which are nearing the end of the first round of games. Other teams and players had discussed sitting out games this week, and the Bucks' decision has already rippled across the league — the NBA announced that the other scheduled Wednesday games between the Oklahoma City Thunder and Houston Rockets and the Los Angeles Lakers and Portland Trail Blazers will be postponed. The league said the games would be rescheduled, but did not specify when that would occur.
The Magic, who were due to play the Bucks Wednesday afternoon, and their owners said in a joint statement that they "stand united" with the NBA, the players association, and the Bucks in "condemning bigotry, racial injustice and the unwarranted use of violence by police against people of color."
Racial justice activism has been central to the NBA season since it resumed in July in a “bubble” environment in Orlando, Florida, intended to prevent COVID-19 from spreading among players. NBA players agreed to restart the season after it paused in March because of the coronavirus pandemic, in part because of an agreement over how the league would handle racial justice issues during games.
Many NBA players had spent the first months of the summer protesting following the killings Taylor and Floyd, and some players like Jrue Holiday of the New Orleans Pelicans have decided to donate their salaries to Black Lives Matter charities. In games since the season resumed, players have worn jerseys with social justice messages, like "Black Lives Matter" and "I Am A Man."
On Monday, Hill expressed frustration over the "sickening" shooting of Blake and police violence, saying that they shouldn't be playing basketball amid the global unrest over police brutality and racism.
"We shouldn't have even came to this damn place," Hill said. "To be honest, I think coming here just took all the focal points off of what the issues are but we’re here so it is what it is."
The Bucks, one of the favorites from this year’s NBA finals, have a specific history with police brutality.
Brown was arrested and tased by Milwaukee police in January 2018, after being stopped outside a drugstore. He’s still engaged in a federal civil rights lawsuit against the city, after rejecting a $400,000 settlement in October 2019. "Mr. Brown deserves more than a mere apology," Brown’s lawyer told ESPN at the time.
“I want more than just money,” Brown said in a July post for the Players’ Tribune, detailing his experience and explaining why he rejected the settlement. “I want cops to show respect and to be held accountable when they step out of line, especially in the neighborhoods they are supposed to serve and protect every day. If they kill a man, I want them to receive the same punishment that another guy on the street would."
Alex Lasry, the senior vice president of the Bucks, tweeted his support for the team's players Wednesday.
The decision from Bucks players to sit out Wednesday’s game came after days of talks between players. The Toronto Raptors and Boston Celtics had been in talks about possibly not playing the first game of their second-round playoff series, which was scheduled for Thursday.
"We knew coming here or not coming here was not going to stop anything, but I think ultimately playing or not playing puts pressure on somebody,” Raptors player Fred VanVleet told reporters on Tuesday after a team meeting and practice.
Celtics star player Jaylen Brown, who marched in Black Lives Matter protests before the NBA season resumed, tweeted Tuesday night that his mind was elsewhere.
NBA stars from other teams still in the playoffs tweeted support in the immediate aftermath of the Bucks’ decision.
LeBron James, a face of the league and one of its most influential players, tweeted a demand for change.
Representatives for the league did not immediately respond to BuzzFeed News’ request for comment.
Correction: Blake survived the shooting and is currently being treated for his injuries at a hospital. A previous version of this post said he had been killed.