Unprecedented protest forces of NBA players engage in delicate diplomacy


For those cynics who wonder about the impact the boycott of the NBA playoffs will have on racial injustice, American sports author Howard Bryant has a message for you: When superstar athletes make such a bold decision, people are listening.”Is this going to change the world? No, this is not the case. Is there a symbolic moment here when it helps change the world? Absolutely, ”said Bryant.

“Because people care about these guys. This is a $ 10 billion industry that we are talking about. You’ll hear people say things like, well, I couldn’t do that at my job.

” It is not you. These people are incredibly, incredibly visible and have a lot of influence. “

Refuse to play

On Wednesday, in protest against the police shootout in Wisconsin of Jacob Blake, who is black, the players refused to play in all three scheduled playoff games. It was an unprecedented move, which will force the league to resort to delicate diplomacy to restart the season.

Now, the future for the rest of the season is unclear. It is not known which games will be played on Thursday. Meanwhile, Yahoo Sports reported that members of the LA Lakers and LA Clippers voted to end the playoffs in a meeting with other teams.

Meanwhile, players from other professional sports leagues have followed suit. Major League Baseball and WNBA players staged their own protest, also refusing to play.

It has been suggested that the last time the NBA playoffs were postponed was in 1992 in Los Angeles during the Rodney King riots. But for a true stoppage of one player’s work, it would be back in the 1961-62 season when the Boston Celtics boycotted an exhibition game in Kentucky when black team members were denied service. In a restaurant.

And this isn’t the first time the NBA in recent years has faced the prospect of players refusing to speak out on a racial issue. In 2014, players threatened to stop playing during the playoffs unless the league dealt with LA Clippers owner Donald Sterling, who had made racist comments. (Sterling was banned for life).

« It’s something they thought they avoided six years ago with Donald Sterling, when the players threatened to boycott at the time during those playoffs, “said Bryant. “And [NBA Commissioner] Adam Silver had worked with the Clippers and with the league to get these players to play.«

« And you start to see actions you’ve never seen before. ”

ESPN commentator Stephen A Smith agreed that it’s one thing to make a lot of noise, but it’s another to refuse to play the game.

‘Different ball game’

“It’s a different level. It’s a different ball game here, ”Smith said in an interview with network colleague Rachel Nichols.

“I think it’s going to explode. You haven’t seen anything like it in the modern age. ”

Retired player Rowan Barrett, Executive Director of Canada Basketball, Canada’s governing body for basketball. said he could understand how difficult it must have been for players to be intentionally absent from a game.

“What a decision. Especially Game 5 of the playoffs, ”he said. “I’m sure it was a very difficult decision. I’m sure the players struggled with that.«

“I think one of their concerns coming back to play – even though everyone wanted to play to do their job – I also think they were really concerned about what would happen if we got into the bubble. ”

Due to the coronavirus, players are playing in Walt Disney World in Florida, which has become a so-called isolated bubble.

«JE think a lot of athletes were registered, sharing the concern of not wanting to stop the momentum [in the fight for social justice] and really wanting to find concrete solutions to the current challenges in the United States ”

As numerous social media outlets, including former US President Barack Obama, expressed support for the players’ decision on Wednesday, not everyone agreed that refusing professional players to play would result in a significant change.

“Thus, the Milwaukee Bucks and Orlando Magic refuse to go to court today, out of indignation at the shooting of Jacob Blake, a black, by the police in Kenosha,” tweeted Jim Geraghty, senior political correspondent for the National Review. .

” So what? The match is delayed by a day and… what changes? ”

“NBA players and owners share 50 to 50 income. They are partners. Strikes only work if capital controls what you want to change. The NBA has no control over the justice system. They shouldn’t either, ”tweeted Clay Travis, host of the morning radio show. for Fox Sports Radio.

‘No tangible result’

“There is no logic in this decision not to play. And no tangible results that the NBA can’t deliver. “

But Bryant said such responses were cynical, that “all parts count” and “everyone has a role to play.”

He also dismissed those who would say it is an embarrassment for the NBA.

“I don’t think it’s an embarrassment. I think it’s stimulating. I think this is the seriousness of the moment. This is not a joke. And if you stand up for those things that you say you care about, I can’t think of a better reason not to play. ”

After becoming the first team to boycott NBA bubble games, the Milwaukee Bucks players issued a joint statement to the media. 1:54

Still, player actions have put the NBA in the difficult position of getting players back on the court, without appearing too awkward, Bryant said.

“What message do you send if you try to be draconian, if you decide to go after them and act like it’s Tiananmen Square or something and try to come out and try to crush a rebellion. ”

Behind closed doors, the NBA leadership is on the phone with the biggest stars engaged in delicate diplomacy, he said.

“Someone’s on the phone with LeBron James right now… and all these great players are like, ‘Hey guys we still have to go to work, all of our livelihoods are on the line here too.’ ”

So it will be very interesting in the next few days or two to know who does diplomacy and what comes out of it. ”


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