MILWAUKEE—On a sunny weekday afternoon, the Bucks brought the NBA playoffs to an abrupt halt when they declined to take the floor against the Orlando Magic in an act of protest in response to the Sunday police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wis., just 45 minutes south of the Bucks’ home arena. With all NBA playoff games being played in Orlando, Milwaukee fans had gathered outside Fiserv Forum for a watch party, and about 50 fans remained there an hour after the game had been canceled.
It was a historic moment, the first NBA game—playoffs or otherwise—to be postponed after players refused to take the court as an act of civil disobedience. Elgin Baylor famously took an individual stand against racism by sitting out a game back in 1959, but never before had two entire teams agreed to do so.
And yet, even though Milwaukee fans had gathered in hopes of watching their team close out the series with the Magic and advance to the second round of the Eastern Conference playoffs, those that remained outside the arena were supportive of the team’s decision not to play.
“I’m proud of them,” said Karl Iglesias. “They made a statement that obviously I wouldn’t have made, because I’m here ready to watch the game. And so for them to make that statement shows the power of it.”
Iglesias was sitting with his friend Joshua Sarnowski, who agreed, saying, “I think it’s a sign of unity, in a sense. I mean, they’re sending a message that we’re in a whole newfound space. These guys are just using their platform to their advantage, and I think that’s a beautiful thing. … In terms of like, what’s going on right now in reality, we definitely need to find that unity and say, ‘This isn’t right.’ »
One table over, fellow fan and season ticket holder Anthony Jones agreed: “I’m good with it. It’s bigger than the game.”
His table mate Marques Johnson added, “I think it’s huge. I think it shows the kind of organization the Bucks have. I get that sports are an outlet to tune out the world, but some things you just can’t tune out.”
« We fully support our players and the decision they made. Although we did not know beforehand, we would have wholeheartedly agreed with them. The only way to bring about change is to shine a light on the racial injustices that are happening in front of us. Our players have done that and we will continue to stand alongside them and demand accountability and change.”
Alex Lasry, son of Bucks owner Marc Lasry and a senior vice president with the organization, also tweeted out support for the players, saying, “Some things are bigger than basketball. The stand taken today by the players and org shows that we’re fed up. Enough is enough. Change needs to happen. I’m incredibly proud of our guys and we stand 100% behind our players ready to assist and bring about real change.”
The Bucks proved to be the first domino to fall, as the subsequent Rockets-Thunder and Lakers–Trail Blazers games were canceled shortly afterward. The day’s events cast the rest of the playoffs into doubt, as SI’s Chris Mannix reported that the players plan to meet Wednesday night to discuss whether to proceed.
For Bucks fans, the team’s outstanding season—No. 1 seed in the East, title favorites, a possible second MVP award for Giannis Antetokounmpo—ending without resolution would be bittersweet. But those on hand Wednesday seemed understanding of the context weighing on the players’ decision.
“It’d be sad. There’s only a limited window to win a championship,” said Brandon Rober before his wife, Alex Rober, interjected, saying, “But at the same time, it’s like, if you’re going to wear things on your jersey, and if you’re gonna truly stand for things, then they’re doing the right thing. Then stand for it. I guess in my eyes, boycotting one game won’t change anything, but if the NBA boycotts the whole season, that is serious. … Take your stand and be proud of it, and they should. They should be proud of themselves … I think they did the right thing.”
Added Jones, “I think if the players want to [cancel the rest of the season] it’s up to them. But we’re good with it either way.”
“I totally support it,” said Chris Bukowski. “It’s Milwaukee, it’s the state of Wisconsin. What happened in Kenosha is not right. They’re really making a statement. It’s actions.”
Bukowski’s friend Jay Scott added, “I’m really, really proud to be a Milwaukee Bucks fan. This is really, really important.”
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