The NBA postponed all three scheduled playoff games on Wednesday after Milwaukee Bucks players boycotted Game 5 of their series against the Orlando Magic in protest over the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Wisconsin.
Blake, a black man who was shot seven times in the back by police on Sunday, is recovering in hospital and is conscious, his family has said.
But he is paralysed from the waist down and his lawyers said it will take “a miracle” for him to walk again.
The Bucks, who are the top seed in the Eastern Conference and hold a 3-1 lead over the Magic, took to the court for pre-game warm-ups but then remained in the locker room when they were due to return. Milwaukee is in the state of Wisconsin, just 40 miles from Kenosha, where the shooting took place.
The Bucks’ game with the Magic had been scheduled to tip-off at 4pm local time (9pm BST) in Orlando. Two more games had been scheduled for Wednesday, with the Oklahoma Thunder and Houston Rockets set to play at 6:30pm ET (11:30pm BST) with their series tied at 2-2, while the Los Angeles Lakers hold a 3-1 lead over the Portland Trail Blazers going into their Game 5 which had been set to start at 9pm ET (02:30am BST).
An hour or so after the Bucks-Magic game had been due to start, with reports rife that the later games would also be boycotted by the players, the NBA released a statement announcing its decision to postpone all three games.
“The NBA and the National Basketball Players Association today announced that in light of the Milwaukee Bucks’ decision to not take the floor today for Game 5 against the Orlando Magic, today’s three games – Bucks vs Magic, Houston Rockets vs Oklahoma City Thunder and Los Angeles Lakers vs Portland Trail Blazers – have been postponed. Game 5 of each series will be rescheduled,” the statement said.
NBA players are set to hold a meeting in Orlando on Wednesday evening to determine how they will proceed following the postponements, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported.
In the Western Conference, the sixth game of the Denver Nuggets-Utah Jazz and Los Angeles Clippers-Dallas Mavericks series remain scheduled for Thursday, along with the opening game of Boston Celtics-Toronto Raptors Eastern Conference second-round match-up.
Bucks owners Marc Lasry, Wes Edens and Jamie Dinan released a joint-statement in support of the team’s players.
“We fully support our players and the decision they made. Although we did not know beforehand, we would have wholeheartedly agreed with them,” the statement said.
“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.”
The Orlando Magic, who reportedly would have refused to accept a forfeit from the Bucks, released a statement in support of their playoff opponents.
“Today we stand united with the NBA Office, the National Basketball Players Association, the Milwaukee Bucks and the rest of the league condemning bigotry, racial injustice and the unwarranted use of violence by police against people of colour,” the Magic statement said.
The National Basketball Referees Association (NBRA) also released a statement in support of the players.
“The NBRA stands in solidarity with our players’ decision to boycott tonight’s games in protest of the continued unjustified killing of black men and women by law enforcement,” the statement said. “There are more important issues in our country than basketball and we hope this will inspire change.”
Three WNBA games scheduled for Wednesday were set to go ahead, with players reportedly planning to stop play at the seven-minute mark of each quarter – a reference to the number of times Blake was shot.
Players from the Washington Mystics, who were scheduled to face the Atlanta Dream, arrived for their game in T-shirts with letters combining to spell Blake’s name on the front, and seven marks each – representing bullet holes – on the back.
The protests spilled over to Major League Baseball with another Milwaukee team – the Brewers – and the Cincinnati Reds opting not to play their game scheduled for later on Wednesday evening. Other MLB teams were reportedly considering calling off their games as well.
James: We demand change
NBA players have been protesting since the season resumed in an Orlando bubble, in solidarity with worldwide action taken following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May.
Players have worn Black Lives Matter shirts during warm-ups, knelt during the playing of the US national anthem before games, and worn social justice messages on the back of their jerseys during matches.
Several NBA players, including the Lakers’ LeBron James, took to social media in apparent support of the Bucks’ decision to boycott the game.
James wrote on Twitter: “WE DEMAND CHANGE. SICK OF IT.”
The Jazz’s Donovan Mitchell and Nuggets guard Jamal Murray, who have played starring roles in a series between their sides in the bubble, both also backed the Bucks.