I want to open both from the “I perspective” and with the acknowledgment that: this is not a typical “Belly Up” type of piece. Belly Up is a fun site that many of us check after work, after that morning meeting, or first thing in the morning when we’re delaying getting started on work. It’s a place to find fun, interesting sports news, sports talk, or sports adjacent content that helps distract us from whatever else is going on because, well, sports are the great escape. Sports can be entirely captivating for a couple of minutes or a couple of hours, they can seemingly mean everything and nothing at the same time. Sports have an inherent lightheartedness because they’re silly games, but they have an inherent seriousness because they’re religiously bonding. A sport I really enjoy is basketball. Specifically, the NBA brand of basketball. I’ve been a fan of the NBA for a long, long time. I’m not sure I’ve ever been a more proud fan as I was this week.

But this is your warning… If you’d like to press the “back” or “x” button along the top of the window… do it. Because on August 26th, four years to the day that Colin Kaepernick abstained from the national anthem to bring up a conversation, the NBA made sure we could not escape it.

Specifically, the day began with the Toronto Raptors and Boston Celtics talking about doing it. Then, in the build-up to the Orlando Magic vs. Milwaukee Bucks game, the talk was all about if they’d do it. And by the end of the day, all six NBA basketball teams slated to play had done it, every WNBA team slated to play had done it, and nearly a dozen baseball teams as well: 

Pro sports went on strike as a form of protest in reaction to the attempted murder of Jacob Blake at the hands of the Kenosha, Wisconsin, police department last Sunday. 

The Bucks never came out of the locker room ahead of their Game 6 contest with the Orlando Magic. The Magic, in turn, retreated to their locker room. Moments later, Chris Paul and Russell Westbrook were seen in the hallway. Tensions on social media and sports media were high. Boycott? Walk-out? Quit? What was happening? Where were the players?  Shortly,  all players had left the arena… except the Milwaukee Bucks. The Bucks were still in their locker room, where they were hours earlier. Not on the floor. Not watching TV in their hotel rooms. They were making a statement, literally. Inside of the locker room, the Milwaukee Bucks spoke with Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul and Lt. Governor Mandela Barnes. They wrote out an explanation and had George Hill and Sterling Brown read it to the media. 

Kenosha, WI, is just 33 miles from Milwaukee. Brown, who wore a tee-shirt that read “BLACK ALL THE TIME” while reading the statement, is a victim of police brutality and wrote about it for the Player’s Tribune earlier this summer. NBA Center John Henson, while playing for Milwaukee, was also the victim of racial profiling in a local jeweler. The attempted murder of Blake hit close to home for NBA Players and much of the country alike, but it was literally close to home for the Bucks. 

Players met late the night of the 26th to discuss the reality of the strike, and how far it would go. The NBA Board of Governors quickly rushed to schedule a meeting the following morning. Reports indicate LeBron James and the Lakers, as well as the Clippers, voted to end the season. The meeting will reconvene at the same time as the Board of Governors meeting, Thursday. No official decision was reached by the end of Wednesday night, but reporting indicated that at least the next day’s games were in trouble (and they were, they were cancelled the next morning).

But trouble is exactly the point of the strike. In the words of the late civil rights leader and  congressman John Lewis, to make progress you have to “get in good trouble, necessary trouble, and help redeem the soul of America.” 

Good trouble will rub the twitter trolls the wrong way. The first-name-followed-by-a-string-of-random-numbers bot army comes after those who cause good trouble. The selfie-with-sunglasses-in-car-profile-picture crew is livid about those who cause good trouble. But if good & necessary trouble can be made by some not playing basketball, then maybe we don’t need to be watching basketball.  Good trouble is what makes a Wednesday night in August, amidst a pandemic-ridden season in a weird NBA bubble, a truly historic night for a movement much bigger than basketball.

Damian Lillard, the NBA Bubble MVP, uses his jersey to both ask and answer a simple question

Black Lives Matter movements have erupted in the last six months. While the movement itself has been around closer to a decade, the last six months the “enough is enough” sentiment has caught blaze, sometimes with literal flames. In the days following the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, nightly protesting replaced the postponed spotting events on our televisions.

 In the wake of the attempted murder of Jacob Blake, the NBA players have put a timeout on playing for us to again focus on the much more important human rights issues in our country. As you’re reading this, Blake is paralyzed, fighting for his life, and handcuffed to his hospital bed.

Strikes usually lead to tangible demands, but this is an interesting work stoppage. The NBA is a big-money business run by 30 corporations in roughly 28 markets across the country. Policing, the issue at hand, is a local issue. That adds complexity to the demands of the players striking and demonstrating.

The demands of the players are going to seem out there because it’s going to take something out there to make any real change. The Bucks may demand their owner, Wes Edens, invest a large chunk of the billion dollars he’s worth in police reform in their greater Milwaukee market. LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard may demand that Jeanie Buss and Steve Balmer invest in movements to reformat, restructure, and rebuild the LAPD in a new light. 

They say, “we won’t play until the cities of Kenosha, Louisville, and Minneapolis, arrest the cops that shot Jacob Blake, Breonna Taylor, and killed George Floyd.” Tangibly, the hope would be that the pressure from the billion-dollar industry is enough to start the wheels of change.  But they haven’t, yet. And they may not. That doesn’t mean they don’t have the nation talking. They’ve said what they are trying to say, for what feels like the millionth or billionth time, by taking their bodies off of the floor. NBA players weren’t running up and down, dunking, shooting, passing, or doing anything to distract from the one clear message left on the bare floor behind them.

Black Lives Matter.

I, as a white man, cringe and get squeamish at the videos of police murdering black civilians that regularly flood social media timelines. They hurt. The names that have become hashtags are getting to be too many to count. They, too, hurt. And it all hurts each and every time they hit me. But that squeamishness, that pain, and the disbelief that this continues to happen for me is nothing compared to the pain it causes black people in this country. I see a sad and disturbing video, they see a loved one, a relatable story, or a mirror. 

So with all of that said, I’m going to stop talking. It’s time to listen to those feeling the most pain, not talk over them. You’re all on this site and thus, presumably, a sports fan, so below are the words of people in sports we need to listen to while the players are taking a timeout.  

(please note, this is simply a portion of the powerful messages this week. There have been countless voices from our leaders at the forefront for the entirety of the last six months)

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#wnba 🧡✊🏽

A post shared by WNBA Bubble Life (@wnbabubblelife) on Aug 26, 2020 at 4:22pm PDT

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XhqKda79Lys&w=560&h=315]

If reading this, or listening to these people, made you wonder what you can do (aside from being registered to vote and voting in your local, state, and the national elections on November 3rd) and you have the means, please donate to the organizations below

Black Lives Matter

ACLU

NAACP

For things that are usually more fun, but rarely as important, follow me on Twitter @painsworth512 for more, and give our podcast “F” In Sports a listen wherever you listen to podcasts!

About Author

Parker Ainsworth

Senior NBA Writer, Co-Host of "F" In Sports and The Midweek Midrange. Parker is a hoops head, "retired" football player, and sneaker aficionado. Austinite born in Houston, located in Dallas after a brief stint in LA... Parker is a well-traveled Texan, teacher, and coach. Feel free to contact Parker- https://linktr.ee/PAinsworth512

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