The Milwaukee Bucks and Orlando Magic were supposed to suit up for Game 5 of their 2020 NBA playoffs first round series on Aug. 26, just two days after Jacob Blake was shot in the back seven times in Kenosha, WI.
It was supposed to be a regular game as the Bucks would win and the Magic would exit the bubble and effectively end their 2019-20 NBA season.
However, nothing about that day was regular — or normal for that matter.
The Bucks never took the court, but they did take a stand.
Rather than coming out, playing their game, and acting as if nothing had happened, the Bucks stayed in their locker room for more than three hours and participated in a conference call with Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul and Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes. It would have been very easy for the Bucks to play their game, send the Magic home, and move on to the next round.
Nobody was expecting anything special of them. Nobody expected them to potentially forfeit a playoff game. Nobody expected them to spark one of the most monumental movements in the history of sports.
The unexpected things in life are often times the most influential though.
The Bucks started a ripple effect that ran through the entire NBA. Not a single game was played that night or that night after it or the night after that.
Instead, NBA players got together to truly discuss how they could impact a world that seems to be more divided than ever before. They had meaningful conversations that should have been had before the bubble even began and for a little while, it seemed as though the season was over.
Reports from every sports media outlet imaginable came out stating that LeBron James had walked out of the meeting. Along with him went the rest of the Los Angeles Lakers and Los Angeles Clippers. Before a proper story could even be pieced together, social media began judging.
The Lakers and Clippers were reportedly the only two teams to vote against returning to play, but what does that mean?
Well, there is no real answer to that question. Everyone will take it how they want to and come to their own conclusions. Some people will question the Bucks and ask why they were willing to sit out a game but not the entire season while others will question the Lakers and Clippers true motives.
At first, I was one of those people. I thought to myself, if racial inequality was so important to the Bucks, they would have been willing to give up their championship hopes and exit the bubble right then and there. I was so focused on this being a performative notion rather than one from the heart that I could not even see the bigger picture.
In the end, it comes down to one thing really: the NBA got everyone’s attention.
From the national media to the referees all the way up to the owners of each and every team, they were all watching.
Ultimately, the players decided to resume the season, but it was only after real, tangible plans for change were created and thought out.
Do I believe the Lakers and Clippers were willing to throw away their seasons had NBA owners and brass not been able to assure them more of an effort would be put towards making change? I truly do.
I believe that because it is clear that not just the Los Angeles teams, but every team still in the bubble knows that this is bigger than basketball. An NBA championship pales in comparison to be able to effect change that will lead to getting equity for people of color and putting an end to racial injustices.
A lot of these players have children, black children. They probably fear for their lives every single time they walk out of the house, every time that they are pulled over by the police, every time they are walking home from the corner store with a bag of skittles or simply walking down the street.
I personally do not have children, but I have listened to my mother cry as she begged me not to leave the house to go get a late night snack in my car.
Things that white people would not even have to think twice about, black people fear.
The police are supposed to protect and serve everyone, yet they are the ones that black people fear the most.
Something just is not right about that.
The players understand that and that is why it was so important for them to do this. If nothing is said and if nothing is done, then no change will ever occur. The players put everyone on alert, they let the world, league, and their owners know they will not stand for complacency because being complacent in acts of oppression make you no better than the oppressor.
NBA players are not only athletes but influencers and even though they returned to play, they made it known where they stand. Nothing like this had ever happened before and so many of the owners did not think it ever could.
They did not think there was a single thing that would ever make players jeopardize their chance at a championship.
Well, now they know that there is.
Change comes about through actions. Allowing messages promoting social justice to be placed on jerseys and putting ‘Black Lives Matter’ on the court is fine, but it means nothing if there are no meaningful plans of action being developed behind them.
For some reason, the NBA did not realize that before, but the players in the bubble made it their mission to make sure they do now.