It started with the Milwaukee Bucks, who were scheduled to play Game 5 of their first-round playoff series on Wednesday afternoon in Orlando. But the Bucks decided they would boycott the game in protest of the shooting of Jacob Blake by police in Kenosha, Wisconsin, just about 30 miles south of Milwaukee. That led to the postponement of the entire NBA slate.
And for TNT analyst Kenny Smith, the videotaped shooting of Blake was too much to process. He stunned his fellow analysts and millions of viewers by getting up during the broadcast and walking off the set.
Here’s the scene of Smith’s sudden exit:
Kenny Smith: ‘I Just Don’t Feel Equipped to be Here’
Before leaving, Smith tried to explain his mindset.
“This is tough,” he said. “Right now, my head is ready to explode and thoughts of what’s going on. I don’t even know if I am appropriate enough to say it, what the players are feeling and how they are feeling. I haven’t talked to any of the players but even driving in here and getting into the studio, hearing calls and people talking.
“For me, I think the biggest thing now is, as a Black man, as a former player, I think it is best for me to support the players and just not be here tonight.”
At that point, Smith disconnected his microphone and got up. “And figure out what happens after that,” he said. “I just don’t feel equipped to be here.”
That could be a wider issue for the NBA as a whole as it attempts to complete the 2019-20 season, interrupted in March because of the coronavirus pandemic, in its so-called “bubble” environment in Orlando.
The league has been successful in staving off the coronavirus but many players went to Orlando concerned that returning to the floor could overshadow the focus on social justice and protests against police violence that began with the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis in late May. The league and union negotiated a plan in June to allow for increased social justice messaging from players.
The shooting of Blake could cause the unraveling of the entire attempted restart as players’ concerns over social justice outweigh their desire to finish out this year.
Bucks Demand Legislative Action, Have Owner Support
Also on Wednesday, the Bucks players released a statement explaining their actions, citing Blake shooting and the subsequent shooting of protestors on Tuesday night. From the statement:
Over the last few days in our home state of Wisconsin, we’ve seen the horrendous video of Jacob Blake being shot in the back seven times by a police officer in Kenosha, and the additional shooting of protestors. Despite the overwhelming plea for change, there has been no action, so our focus today cannot be on basketball. … We are calling for justice for Jacob Blake and demand the officers be held accountable. For this to occur, it is imperative for the Wisconsin State Legislature to reconvene after months of inaction and take up meaningful measures to address issues of police accountability, brutality and criminal justice reform.
The collective bargaining agreement does not permit player strikes, so the Bucks technically stand in violation of league rules. But the players did have the support of the players association and the team’s owners, who also released a statement:
“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.”