NBA Rumor: Players Boycott

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A clip of the former president’s conversation with LeBron James was released by HBO on Thursday, and the topic was activism in the sports world. The full episode of “The Shop” with Obama will air on Friday at 9 p.m. ET. Obama calls back to past athletes known for their activism and outspokenness — Jack Johnson, Muhammad Ali, Jackie Robinson, Arthur Ashe, Bill Russell — then praises NBA players for picking up the torch with their wildcat strike earlier this year in protest of the shooting of Jacob Blake.

Barack Obama: To see this new generation without fear in speaking their mind and their conscience, I think you guys are setting the tone for a lot of young people coming up and a lot of other athletes in other leagues. We saw what happened after Milwaukee and the NBA players did what they did. WNBA players, you started seeing soccer players, you start seeing NFL players doing stuff, baseball. You guys really showed leadership on this in a way that deserves a lot of credit and made me real proud.

What impact do you think this work stoppage had on the relationship between players and owners? Jared Dudley: We want owners and the league, Adam Silver, to be proactive instead of reactive. What I mean by that is it should not be us having to demand stuff. This should’ve been done before we even got to Orlando. Owners put a certain amount of money towards all this but how are we going to change bills [or laws]? This should’ve been discussed. Not after somebody got shot. That already happened when someone’s knee was on someone’s neck for eight minutes and he died and there were protests throughout the whole world. So there’s going to be another unarmed Black person to die here in the next couple weeks, we just know how life is. Are we gonna stop again?

As Jacob Blake Sr. remembers it, barely any time had passed from the time the Milwaukee Bucks decided not to play their game Wednesday in protest of the shooting of his son by the police to when his phone rang and the Bucks were on the line. He had just left the hospital after visiting his son, also named Jacob Blake, the 29-year-old Black man who was shot seven times by Kenosha, Wisconsin, police officer Rusten Sheskey last weekend. Blake was trying to enter the driver’s side door of his vehicle following an encounter with law enforcement when he was shot in the back.

“They don’t know what they did for us,” he said. “My children are young, and they need pick-me-ups. It’s hard for me, sometimes, to motivate them. But these young brothers in the NBA have motivated my family immensely, and we appreciate it immensely.” Following the call with the Bucks on Wednesday, Blake Sr. was invited to virtually join the emergency meeting called by the 13 NBA teams remaining in the league’s Orlando bubble Wednesday night to discuss their options: continuing the Bucks’ protest and abandoning the rest of the postseason or finding a path to return to play.

At the end of the day Wednesday, in LeBron James’ mind, his season was over. Forget the playoffs. Forget chasing title No. 4 in Year 17. Forget the bubble. “When I went to bed, I had major reservations about playing,” LeBron told The Athletic. “It wasn’t what they (the Milwaukee Bucks) said; we heard what they said. It was, What the fuck are we going to do now? Are we just going to go back out there and play again, after all of this, with no plan? Nah. What was the plan? “I woke up Thursday morning and I came up with a plan,” he said.

He said he didn’t learn of what the Bucks had done that afternoon by seeing it on TV. He called a Lakers meeting and, after talking to his own circle of advisers, said to his teammates that they shouldn’t play their Game 5 that night against the Trail Blazers. The Rockets-Thunder game was also postponed. “After they (the Bucks) did that, and we knew why — (the shooting of Jacob Blake by Wisconsin police) was in their own backyard — we couldn’t go out and play. There was no way,” LeBron said. “That was it.”

John Carlos — who authored the most famous protest in sports history — became a hero for human rights. Now, almost 52 years after his transformative moment, Carlos has new heroes of his own: NBA players boycotting playoff games over racial injustice. “I commend what they did. They moved up in my mind to hero status,” Carlos told The Post. “I mean all the [athletes] that have stepped backwards from their games to set a precedent and make statement, to let ownership know there’s been plenty of time relevant to black lives being taken by the hands of law enforcement, and the fact is the ownerships have never shown respect or concern for those black lives.

John Carlos: “I mean all the [athletes] that have stepped backwards from their games to set a precedent and make statement, to let ownership know there’s been plenty of time relevant to black lives being taken by the hands of law enforcement, and the fact is the ownerships have never shown respect or concern for those black lives. These women as well as men became my heroes. I wanted to knock all the stuff I had off my mantelpiece and put each and every one of them on my mantelpiece as someone I should commemorate, someone I should cherish, someone I should respect and honor. They’re my heroes.”

Andre Iguodala, vice president of National Basketball Players Association, opened up to “CBS This Morning: Saturday” co-host Dana Jacobson about the thought process behind the players’ agreement to return to the court. “I think ultimately, you know, we wanted to take a step back,” Iguodala said. “We wanted to regroup, refocus, and just like a refresh button because it’s just, things can get heavy in your heart. And, you know, sometimes you ask yourself, what’s your purpose? And what it boils down to is: Is the platform working for us to get our messages out there? And there’s a real human issue here and we’re trying to shed light on that and we’re going to try to put things in place to change that.”

Iguodala said he wanted people to know that even though athletes are exalted, they’re still human. “I think you look at the athlete and it goes all the way back to, you know, Greek mythology. And we’re looked at as these godlike beings, but at the end of the day, we’re humans and, you know, we have emotions,” Iguodala said. “And although we give people away from their issues and bring joy to them, we need time to focus on our mental health as well. And a big part of it is, you know, you want the next generation to be better than you are and it wouldn’t be right if we left those communities that we grew up in, we left them behind when situations like this happen.”

Milwaukee Bucks wing Wesley Matthews said the team is not “apologetic” for boycotting Game 5 of their first-round series against the Orlando Magic Wednesday, a decision he said the team made organically. “I feel like we did what any team would’ve done in that situation. And we’re not apologetic for what we did, what we feel is right,” Matthews said ahead of Saturday’s rescheduled Game 5 against the Magic. “Obviously, with communication it could’ve been a little bit better, but in a moment like that, sometimes there isn’t time for it.

Matthews says it wasn’t thought about or planned ahead of time as they were “showing humanity” and they didn’t anticipate the reaction, while preparing to forfeit the game and go down 3-2 in the series. “We didn’t think that this was gonna turn the way that it did, but we are grateful for the fact that, that moment, that pause, that postponement was able to help everybody reflect again and realize that everybody’s gotta step up,” Matthews said.

“If you told me tomorrow that by shutting down the season, we could end police brutality, shut it down. If you told me tomorrow we could end racism by shutting down the season, shut it down,” said a Western Conference executive whose team isn’t in the bubble. “This s— ain’t going to stop because y’all said, ‘We ain’t going to play ball!’ The problem is, you shut down the season, nothing is going to change immediately. You’re going to make some noise and then, guess what? You become irrelevant because you don’t have a platform after that.”

It has fallen on them because they are in a position to have their voices amplified. They have been handed the stage by the league to make of it what they will. But the fact remains that most are just twenty-somethings trying to figure out how to navigate life under intense scrutiny. Rivers said this week he “should just be a coach,” but Black coaches and players can’t just stick to sports if they tried. “Is it fair? Absolutely not. Are they up for the job? Absolutely,” said Carl Suddler, an Emory University assistant professor in history and African American historian. “These players, like most black folks in the United States, have always lived lives that are responsible to more than just themselves. Black folks in this country have always thought of themselves as part of a larger community. Unfortunately, we don’t get to think of ourselves individually and think of work as simply something we are. Work becomes a representation of who we are. That in and of itself is unfair. Because that type of obligation, that type of pressure isn’t put on different communities to the same effect.”

Patrick Beverley admits there were disagreements during an emotional players meeting Wednesday, but the LA Clippers ultimately wanted to “stay united” with every NBA team and resume the playoffs. “I think collectively as a team, we just wanted to stay united with every other team here in the bubble,” Beverley said of what changed for the Clippers from Wednesday to Thursday. “And of course the dialogue that we had was between players — players only — but whatever dialogue that was, it came out to be positive.

For hours on Wednesday, players demanded action. But what? And from whom? The Bucks got a spotty cell phone call from Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul. They wanted information on how Kaul would proceed with prosecution of the officer who shot Jacob Blake, the 29-year-old black man who was shot seven times by a Kenosha, Wis., police officer on Sunday. Kaul proceeded to politically weaponize the conversation, blaming a pair of state legislators for not doing enough. Players spoke of the need to do more for voting rights and police reform, though to several people in the room it was unclear how.

On Thursday, after the players agreed to continue playing this postseason, James was among the players in the room for a call with the 13 team governors with franchises inside the bubble, league office personnel, NBPA members and Hornets’ owner Michael Jordan, who serves as the labor relations committee chairman. He spoke for around five minutes to the room and pushed for complete follow-up to social justice items after the season ended, that the action topics did not die with the season, according to multiple direct sources on the call. James added he wanted to see the league and owners help build up poor communities, and that most people where he grew up couldn’t afford to pay for television cable to watch his games. One person who was on the call told The Athletic that they were impressed by what James had to say and that he made “very valid points.”

Chris Bosh: My brothers and sisters in the NBA and WNBA aren’t striking because any of this is new. They’re striking because it isn’t. When I was eight years old, I loved to watch cartoons, but on a night I’ll never forget, my television showed something else: Four officers from the Los Angeles Police Department taking more than fifty swings with their batons at a man named Rodney King. I couldn’t understand everything I was seeing, but I knew it wasn’t right—and I had a question on my mind I could not get past: Why? Why would they do that to another human being?

Chris Bosh: These kids had to witness that. I couldn’t even watch the video—and I’m an adult, a seven-foot former professional basketball player at that. Because if you’re Black in America, images like these have the power to bring you to your knees in sorrow, no matter how tall you stand. That is why I’m so proud of my fellow basketball players in the bubble: Because in a country providing them with so many reasons to be resigned—in a country where regardless of how much money you make or how famous you become, some people will still define you by your race, as Sterling Brown and Masai Ujiri have seen first hand—they refused to be defeated.

After walking out of Wednesday’s players meeting in support of sitting out NBA’s games, LeBron James led a small group of players who turned to perhaps America’s biggest basketball fan for advice. Former President Barack Obama spoke to James, National Basketball Players Association president Chris Paul and a small group of players late Wednesday evening, advising them to play and utilize the opportunity to contextualize action they want in order to play, The Athletic has learned.

On Thursday, after the players agreed to continue playing this postseason, James was among the players in the room for a call with the 13 team governors with franchises inside the Bubble, league office, NBPA and Hornets’ Michael Jordan, who serves as the labor relations committee chairman. He spoke for around five minutes and pushed for complete follow-up after the season ended, that the action topics did not die with the season, according to multiple direct sources on the call. James added he wanted to see the league and owners help build up poor communities, and that most people where he grew up couldn’t afford to pay for television cable to watch his games. One person who was on the call told The Athletic that they were impressed by what James had to say and made “very valid points.”

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: For me, what really brought the hearth fire of hope back to life was the instantaneous support of other sports teams and athletes. Major League Soccer, in which only 26% of players are black, postponed five games that day, with players from two teams, Inter Miami and Atlanta United, locking arms and refusing to play. Major League Baseball, with only about 8% African American players, also joined in with players from the Milwaukee Brewers and Cincinnati Reds sitting out their games and the Seattle Mariners voted unanimously to postpone their Wednesday game. More baseball teams joined the boycott on Thursday. In tennis, perhaps the whitest of all the sports, former US Open champion Naomi Osaka walked away from her semi-final match at the Western & Southern Open on Thursday, tweeting, “I don’t expect anything drastic to happen with me not playing, but if I can get a conversation started in a majority white sport I consider that a step in the right direction.” Professional tennis organizations USTA, ATP, and WTA issued a statement in support of her stance and postponed tournament play on Thursday. I have never been prouder of my athlete colleagues.

LeBron James was one of the many players miffed with the Bucks’ handling of the situation as well, sources said. To him and so many others, it put them in a no-win situation. His frustration with Hill and the Bucks was because the players didn’t have a plan of action that would warrant players returning to play, sources said. James’ mindset, sources said, was if they’re refusing to play, then what’s the end game and what demands must be met to continue?

On the call, James was stern in calling on owners to do more in aiding the Black community and to play more of a role in using their resources to combat systemic racism, sources said. James had already told players he was in, but depending on how the meeting went with owners, he would have reversed course if things went sideways, sources said. After the meeting, James felt comfortable with returning to the court, sources said. Owners promised that they would get to work on real action items that would benefit the Black community, sources said.

LA Clippers coach Doc Rivers said his players are ready to continue the NBA postseason after “they thought it was over” following Wednesday’s emotional players’ meeting. “Oh, they want to,” Rivers said when asked if his team is ready to move forward during an interview Thursday on Fox Prime Ticket. “They are really looking forward to it. Yesterday was a very difficult day though. Like their emotions were all over the place. “They thought it was over. It was just a really tough day for all of them.”

Steve Ballmer: I am again angry over the shooting of a Black man, Jacob Blake. Doc Rivers and the Bucks players said it well: We need real police accountability. Give citizens data to do so. Let’s have criminal justice reform that keeps all people safe, but not senselessly imprisoned or afraid. Now is the time to research and vote for the mayors, council people, commissioners, legislators, governors, judges, prosecutors, and attorneys general who can make it happen. Now is the time to work out bipartisan national police reform.

Later Wednesday evening at 8:00, several of the league’s top NBPA player representatives, including Chris Paul and Andre Iguodala, spoke. Bucks forward Kyle Korver, Clippers players Patrick Beverley and Kawhi Leonard, and coaches Doc Rivers, Armond Hill, and John Lucas, Portland’s CJ McCollum and many others spoke. According to one source who was in the meeting, the major themes included voting, police brutality, and more direct action with owners. Another source said more open discussion got done once coaches left the players’ meeting. For reference, Rivers has spoken about players remaining in the bubble and using their platform to continue speaking on the issue of racism in the country.

There was a sense some players didn’t want to speak up around coaches, according to some in the meeting. Some players wanted to learn what the financial ramifications would be if the season was canceled. Players, including Boston’s Jaylen Brown, stressed the fight for justice is not over once the season concludes. Brown was also among the players who didn’t mind what the Bucks did. Other players would have preferred more transparency and a heads up for more of a united front. Looking ahead, players also emphasized figuring out a way to present that desired united front once they leave the bubble.

Despite strong feelings and tensions from players over racism in the country, one high-profile agent believed there was always a path to finishing the season if a sticking point is resolved. “Hopefully, there will be an appeasement if there is communication with the owners and the players to work together to get in front of politicians,” the agent told HoopsHype looking ahead. Another agent with multiple players remaining in the bubble who spoke to his players about the current situation said, “They seem like they want to continue playing.”

Nike Inc. on Thursday released a statement in support of the NBA and WNBA players who went on strike Wednesday in protest of the shooting of a Black man, Jacob Blake, by police in Wisconsin. Nike’s endorsers include numerous NBA and WNBA athletes. The company’s statement, in full: Nike stands in support of NBA and WNBA players and athletes across the sports community in their response to the senseless shooting of Jacob Blake. We remain committed to addressing the issue of systemic racism experience by the Black community.

When LeBron James and other players from the Lakers and Los Angeles Clippers left the meeting room Wednesday night with the intention of not continuing to play in the bubble, José Juan Barea thought that the NBA season had just reached its end without completing the playoffs. “Yes, absolutely. When we went out like this, everyone thought we were going to go back to our homes”, admitted the veteran Dallas Mavericks point guard to El Nuevo Día in reference to the decisions of both teams to boycott the postseason.

Michael Jordan emerging as key figure between players and owners

A recognizable figure has emerged as a go-between the NBA players and the owners: Michael Jordan. Jordan, owner of the Charlotte Hornets — and the only Black majority owner in the league — reached out to National Basketball Players Association president Chris Paul, league sources told ESPN, in advance of the owners meeting to get a better understanding of what the players hoped to achieve going forward and to offer assistance as they make their case to the NBA’s board of governors. Jordan also spoke with Houston Rockets star Russell Westbrook about issues of social justice that initially left some stars advocating for the cancellation of the season.

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