The Milwaukee Bucks and Orlando Magic were scheduled to play Game 5 of their first-round playoff series on Wednesday afternoon. However, the Bucks never left their locker room, and a few minutes before tip-off, the Magic left the court.
When the buzzer to start the game sounded, there was nothing but an empty court with a message printed on it— the same message that the Bucks are hoping to send by boycotting their game: Black Lives Matter.
The protest is a response to a police shooting in Kenosha, Wisconsin, in which Jacob Blake, a 29-year-old Black man, was shot in the back multiple times by police. Blake survived the incident, but Blake’s attorney Ben Crump said it’s “going to take a miracle” for Blake to ever walk again.
The shooting has taken an emotional toll on the Lakers, many of whom have taken to social media to express their anger towards the police officers involved, and the current status quo. LeBron James was loudest, and tweeted this right after the Bucks and Magic’s decisions to boycott:
FUCK THIS MAN!!!! WE DEMAND CHANGE. SICK OF IT— LeBron James (@KingJames) August 26, 2020
ARREST THE COPS THAT TRIED TO KILL JACOB BLAKE https://t.co/mQyQ8Mgdl0— kuz (@kylekuzma) August 25, 2020
According to Frank Vogel, the Lakers also took a moment before practice on Tuesday to talk about the shooting and how it’s affected the team.
“We talked about [Jacob Blake] this morning,” Vogel said. “Really me addressing it to our team, and the message was sort of along the lines of ... it’s obviously it’s disheartening and disturbing for all of us, and it’s difficult to digest and then to go play a game.”
On Tuesday, Vogel said he had no reason to believe that his players would participate in a boycott of playoff games. Now, it’s being reported that the Lakers and Trail Blazers will follow in the Bucks’ footsteps and not play their Game 5.
If the Lakers do decide to play again this season, Vogel wanted his players to know that he would support that, too.
“We’re here to compete for a championship, but the further we advance in the playoffs, the bigger our platform to speak up on this grows. And I think it’s important for our guys to understand that,” Vogel said on Tuesday.
The quintessential example of an athlete using their platform to make a political statement is what Tommie Smith and John Carlos, two track and field athletes from the United States, did at the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City. When Smith and Carlos took the podium for their medal ceremonies, they courageously raised one of their fists as a way to express solidarity for the people that were fighting for racial equality in the country.
The Lakers recently brought in Carlos for one of their “Genius Talks,” and Vogel said it helped put things into perspective for him and the team during a team where they’ve felt conflicted.
“The primary takeaway for me is that he wasn’t just an athlete that won a medal and decided to make a statement at that point,” Vogel said. “He trained with the intent of reaching the victory stand so that he could make the victory statement, and he was motivated by this. And I think it’s OK for all of us in here, in the NBA bubble, to have that mindset. To try to align our goals and compete to advance so that we can grow our platform to help affect change, and that was just my primary message to our guys this morning.”
Whatever the Lakers and their peers decide to do, it’s clear that they want to do something that will lead to meaningful change in this country. They’ve all had enough, and they deserve our support as they find their place in this fight against racial injustice. They’re basketball players, but they’re people first.