NBA Players Reverse Course, Will Return to Finish Playoffs

Referees on hand as the Milwaukee Bucks decided to boycott their game on Wednesday.

Getty Referees on hand as the Milwaukee Bucks decided to boycott their game on Wednesday.

After a night in which it looked as though the remainder of the NBA playoffs would be in peril in response to another incidence of police violence, the league’s players met on Thursday morning and agreed to continue on with the completion of the 2019-20 season in the so-called “bubble” environment in Orlando.

The news was first reported by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Games could resume as early as Friday but are expected to be underway again over the weekend.

The stunning turn of events over the last 24 hours began on Wednesday with the Milwaukee Bucks, who were scheduled to play Game 5 of their first-round playoff series against the Magic in Orlando. But the Bucks decided they would boycott the game in protest of Sunday’s shooting of Jacob Blake by police in Kenosha, Wisconsin, just about 30 miles south of Milwaukee.

Once the Bucks pulled out of their game, the entire NBA slate was postponed and the schedule for Thursday was called off, too.

On Wednesday night, a tense player meeting was held in which all remaining teams in Orlando voted to continue on with the playoffs—except for two, the Clippers and Lakers, two of the favorites to win an NBA championship this year. According to multiple reports, Lakers star LeBron James was among the players who walked out of the meeting early, raising the specter of a total cancelation of the season.

NBA Players Met Again on Thursday Morning

But players agreed to reconvene in the morning, at the same time that NBA owners were doing the same. The hope was that, overnight, some of the tension that had developed among players would cool off and another vote could be held.

Several prominent players, including James, were not happy that the Bucks had decided to boycott their game without informing the rest of the league’s players. The players had mostly worked closely together in negotiating the terms of the NBA’s restart, including the focus on social justice issues, since talks about resuming the season began in June.

As one agent told, “There had been such an emphasis on having a united front for this entire thing that to have one team break off and make a decision like that, I think it stung some of the players. They had gone through a lot to try to get everyone on the same page and then all of the sudden, they’re not on the same page, one group goes rogue.”

Bucks Issued Statement, Met With Attorney General & Lieutenant Governor

Still, even players who were against the Bucks’ initial action came to appreciate that, given the team’s proximity to Kenosha and its potential to wield some power within the state of Wisconsin, the Bucks were likely right to take action. Certainly, the result captured the attention of the nation at large, much the way the postponement of the NBA season back in March was a marquee event in highlighting the seriousness of the coronavirus pandemic.

It’s unclear what, exactly, the NBA and its players will do in response to the postponement—players were vague about what, exactly, they were hoping to achieve. But the Bucks, for example, did get a call with Lieutenant Governor Mandela Barnes and Attorney General Josh Kaul to talk about the Jacob Blake situation and calls for police reform.

Bucks players also released a statement calling for action from the legislature:

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.

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