A Step Toward Change

(Associated Press pool photo by Kevin C. Cox)

By Rob Shaw

From what’s been reported, the Milwaukee Bucks’ decision to sit out their first-round playoff game in protest came a little before tip-off.

Their opponent, the Orlando Magic, followed suit. This set off a chain reaction throughout the NBA, and all games were postponed on  Wednesday.

This show of solidarity from the NBA players is powerful. All teams agreed to not play, and if an individual player disagreed, it wasn’t leaked to the media; Stephen A. Smith reported that a plethora of players felt blindsided by the Buck’s decision, including the Magic, who weren’t included in the discussions, but were ultimately supportive.

This approach doesn’t work if the players are not unified. The push back Kyrie Irving received when he suggested not playing before the bubble’s inception was because the biggest players in the league weren’t on board. The beautiful, intelligent accomplishment of Milwaukee’s blindsiding forced the NBA as a whole to make a decision under pressure. The consequence was clear: “if you don’t ride with us, you’re going to be a talking point on ESPN, and Black twitter is going to fry you.”

Before I continue, I’d like to address some confusion. 

First: this is not anti-police rhetoric, it’s anti-police brutality rhetoric. Personally, I know good people who put on the badge and actually protect and serve. One of my best friends was a sheriff. My uncle (my mom’s brother) was a state trooper for 20 years, and a damn good one at that. We are not anti-police, but we are wholeheartedly, one million percent, anti-police brutality. Clippers coach Doc Rivers gave a post-game interview and something he said struck a chord with me: 

“How dare the Republicans talk about fear? We’re the ones that need to be scared. We’re the ones having to talk to every Black child. What white father has to give his son a talk about being careful if you get pulled over?”

My kids are years away from driving and I think about that conversation all the time. I think about how my parents had that conversation with me.

Second, the protests and boycott are not about one case, one murder or one particular instance of racism. Jacob Blake and George Floyd may be the respective straws that broke the camel’s back, but they are not all we are fighting for. In 1955, it was the murder of Emmett Till that became a catalyst for the Civil Rights Movement. Emmett Till would be 79 today. That’s my dad’s age. My father grew up in the South attending segregated schools. 

Emmett Till’s death didn’t happen millennia or even centuries ago. This is a single generation removed. We are fighting for Eric Garner, Botham Jean, Tamir Rice, Michael Brown, and many, many more. It is difficult to do so when racism is baked into our country’s DNA. 

This hits home in the NBA because it’s a predominantly Black league. According to The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports Tide, the NBA is 74 percent African American and 83 percent people of color. 

Before your favorite player was a multi-millionaire and the face of your favorite team, he was a Black man. You don’t stop being a Black man after you get money and notoriety. The issues that are plaguing the Black community still matter to these gentlemen. If hitting ESPN, Turner, and Disney in their ever-so-deep pockets is the best way the players can attempt to force change, I’m here for it. And if striking against the rest of the NBA playoffs will create significant change or at least start moving society in the right direction? Y’all can keep the NBA if it means my people can live.

Site Owner’s Note: Hear Rob speak more about these issues at The Playgrounder podcast. His insight and perspective was truly enlightening.

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