Orlando: The Milwaukee Bucks staged an unprecedented boycott of the NBA playoffs on Wednesday, forcing the league to postpone three games following outrage over the latest shooting of an unarmed black man by US police.
The NBA said it had postponed its entire slate of Wednesday fixtures after the Bucks refused to play game five of their Eastern Conference first-round series against the Orlando Magic in protest at the shooting of African-American Jacob Blake in Wisconsin on Sunday.
“We’re tired of the killings and the injustice,” Bucks player George Hill was quoted by The Undefeated website as saying after Milwaukee failed to take to the court at 4.10pm local time (12.10am Thursday UAE).
The Bucks’ no-show prompted the NBA to scrap two other games scheduled for Wednesday, Houston’s clash with Oklahoma City Thunder and the Los Angeles Lakers’ matchup with the Portland Trail Blazers.
“The NBA and the National Basketball Players Association today announced that in light of the Milwaukee Bucks’ decision to not take the floor today for Game 5 against the Orlando Magic, today’s three games ... have been postponed,” the statement said.
The postponements marked a dramatic escalation in the NBA’s fight for racial equality, which has swept through the league in the months since the killing of unarmed African-American man George Floyd by police in Minneapolis in May.
Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James voiced solidarity with the decision in a tweet shortly after the Bucks boycott.
“WE DEMAND CHANGE. SICK OF IT,” James wrote.
A wave of anger had rippled across the NBA after Sunday’s shooting of the 29-year-old black man in the Bucks’ home state on Sunday.
Blake was shot seven times in the back by police in Kenosha as he attempted to get into a car containing his three children.
Protests have erupted in Kenosha since the shooting, with two people killed after a man in civilian clothes opened fire on demonstrators with an assault rifle on Tuesday.
The NBA’s coronavirus-halted season resumed last month in Orlando against the backdrop of nationwide protests following Floyd’s death.
NBA teams have knelt in protest during the pre-match playing of the US national anthem while the words “Black Lives Matter” have been painted onto each court staging games in Florida.
Players have been allowed to wear jerseys bearing social justice messages.
Some players had also expressed reluctance to restarting the season given the tumultuous events that unfolded in all 50 US states after Floyd’s death.
Blake’s shooting was greeted with disgust by players and coaches across the league.
Earlier Wednesday, the first hint of a boycott had been signalled by Toronto Raptors coach Nick Nurse, who revealed that his players had discussed refusing to play in their game with Boston on Thursday.
Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens, meanwhile, said Blake’s shooting, captured on video, was “horrifying”.
“We talked about it in our team meeting,” Stevens said on Wednesday.
“Our thoughts are with Jacob Blake and his family and obviously that video was horrifying, awful. To think of three kids being in that car. It’s ridiculous.
“Everybody is shaken... there’s a reason why the coaches, players and everyone here has chosen to emphasize social justice and equality.
“These are hard times. With the pandemic going on, with this constant wave of inequality - it’s maddening.”
Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers contrasted the latest shooting with the fearful rhetoric at this week’s Republican Party convention.
“All you hear is Donald Trump and all of them talking about fear,” Rivers said.
“We’re the ones getting killed. We’re the ones getting shot. We’re the ones that are denied to live in certain communities.
“We’ve been hung, we’ve been shot. All you do is keep hearing about fear. It’s amazing to me why we keep loving this country and this country does not love us back.”
Rivers said the video showed the need for police to be reformed.
“If you watch that video, you don’t need to be black to be outraged,” Rivers said.
“You need to be American and outraged. 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? It’s just ridiculous.”