I can’t remember a wildcat strike ever happening by a pro sports team, let alone an entire league, let alone during the playoffs.
My guess is that it’ll alienate more people than it’ll win over, but alienation never lasts very long in sports. A million fans will vow today that they’ll never watch the NBA again and most will be back next week, or at least for the Finals. And everyone who isn’t will be back next season.
The Milwaukee Bucks violated the collective bargaining agreement with the league when they decided to protest by not playing today’s game against the Orlando Magic. But rest assured that extreme wokery is an exception to all contracts in American entertainment, and neither Adam Silver nor anyone affiliated with the league will say a disapproving word about the team walking.
The NBA collective bargaining agreement bans strikes, which means the Bucks are breaking their own contract to stop playing in protest of police violence. (But this is your reminder that there aren't really illegal strikes, just unsuccessful ones.) https://t.co/c2g07wXspx pic.twitter.com/4MmNSb8bJX
— Matt Pearce 🦅 (@mattdpearce) August 26, 2020
Here was the scene today at game time. The Magic took the floor for pre-game warm-ups but the Bucks never showed. They were holding a team meeting in the locker room about the Jacob Blake shooting and apparently … trying to get the attorney general of Wisconsin on the phone.
No Milwaukee Bucks or Orlando Magic players took the court for the start of Game 5. pic.twitter.com/5MYZ85MjWP
— NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) August 26, 2020
That had a domino effect on the rest of the schedule. If the Bucks were too troubled to play then the Houston Rockets and Oklahoma City Thunder would have to be just as troubled or risk appearing callous. Their game was soon cancelled too. Then tonight’s Lakers/Blazers game was also canceled, with enthusiasm from the King himself:
FUCK THIS MAN!!!! WE DEMAND CHANGE. SICK OF IT
— LeBron James (@KingJames) August 26, 2020
Word came down within the last few hours that the Milwaukee Brewers would boycott their game tonight too. That’s the only contest from another sport that I’ve heard of being canceled as of 6:30 ET, but stay tuned.
“We’re tired of the killings and the injustice,” said one Bucks player to ESPN about the players’ decision. The team’s senior VP also chimed in with a statement of support because, as I say, if you’re connected to the league then only one opinion about the strike is politically permissible:
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
— Alex Lasry (@AlexLasryWI) August 26, 2020
— Anthony Michael Kreis (@AnthonyMKreis) August 26, 2020
The players’ union is having an emergency meeting tonight at 8 p.m. They’re in a pickle thanks to the Bucks. If they decide that the strike will last for one game only or one week only or whatever, then who cares? What was the point? If they decide that their only recourse is to boycott the rest of the season, why did they come back in the first place? The league moved mountains to make this quarantine “bubble” in Orlando possible. It had been an amazing success so far, with no players infected. They’ve offered the players multiple opportunities for on-the-court activism, right down to sloganeering on the back of their jerseys. If a strike was in the cards here, why didn’t they do it after George Floyd’s death and pull the plug on the season before it resumed?
And what’s the endgame? What were the Bucks hoping to say to Wisconsin’s AG? If they were planning an ultimatum in which they refused to play until the cops who shot Blake are arrested, that’ll be a much worse PR problem for the league than boycotting a few playoff games is. A criminal charging decision made under threat of an economic strike by a major entertainment industry will inevitably look less legitimate to the public. The team could have and should have waited to see if the D.A. declined to charge the cops and then walked. And if the goal instead is more ambitious, to end unjust police shootings, I’m afraid they’re destined to be unsuccessful. They might as well pull the plug now in that case, as it’ll look ridiculous if they decide to get back on the court and then there’s another dubious shooting somewhere next week.
I’m not going to dwell on their egregious human-rights hypocrisy vis-a-vis China here. Yes, it’s gross that they’d lecture others on standing up for what’s right when they’re lining their pockets with money from concentration-camp administrators, but we’ve made that point at length before and I don’t begrudge them caring more about what happens here than what happens in China. I think this will backfire for a simpler reason, in that it sends the message in the clearest way possible that these guys now care more about activism than they do about their sport. That claim’s been made frequently about athlete activists but it’s never been very strong. Kaepernick may have kneeled for the anthem before the game, but he went out and played, didn’t he? He’s spent the last four years trying to get back on the field in the NFL, for cripes sake. What’s different with today’s news is that, despite the NBA doing everything it can to accommodate displays of activism this season, the players seemed poised to decide that the sport itself is an obstacle to what they really want to do. They truly are activists first now. It’s their right as citizens to make that decision, and it’s your right and mine as citizens to say “I’ve had enough” and not watch anymore.
But we’ll be back eventually. They’ll move on and we’ll move on. Let’s not kid ourselves.