It was always going to be a struggle.
After yesterday afternoon’s dramatic action from the Milwaukee Bucks and their opponents the Orlando Magic, it looked like the NBA’s players were moving towards something historic. The conversation they had been having about structural racism and police brutality had started to feel one-sided in the wake of yet another shooting of a Black person by cops. It was clear to some that more serious action was required. And for a night at least, that move was made, putting everything else in turmoil — would the playoffs continue? would the players leave the Bubble? would the NBA league office and owners respond in a positive way? Would change actually happen?
According to reports from ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, it appears as though those grand plans may be put on hold for now, at least in part. As his tweets explain, it sounds like the players have agreed to return to the court. Today’s games, including Game 1 of the Raptors vs. Celtics series, are cancelled — but the playoffs in general will resume.
Today's three playoff games will be postponed, source tells ESPN. Discussion underway on when teams will resume play. https://t.co/A2PazNKDhy— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) August 27, 2020
The resumption of playoff games could come as soon as Friday, but there is expected to be a return to this season by the weekend, sources tell ESPN. https://t.co/A2PazNKDhy— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) August 27, 2020
There is a meeting of NBA owners and players set for later today, sources tell @MarcJSpears and me. The discussion is expected to include plans of action moving forward on social justice issues.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) August 27, 2020
Now, it’s important to understand how we got here. For that, I’ll turn to another plugged-in NBA reporter, Chris Haynes, who goes into more detail as to what was happening with the players as a group behind the scenes.
Yahoo Sources: There was a change in position from last night with LeBron James, among others, relaying it was in their best interest to finish out the season.— Chris Haynes (@ChrisBHaynes) August 27, 2020
Yahoo Sources: Significant source of frustration in meeting last night stemmed from players not being on the same page and emotions got the best of some. The hope from the collective was after a good night’s sleep, they could reconvene and get it to this point. Playoffs are back.— Chris Haynes (@ChrisBHaynes) August 27, 2020
What this sounds like is a chain reaction of events that began with the Bucks’ decision to not participate in their Game 5 contest against the Magic. The players on Orlando joined in this walkout, and then it became clear a larger meeting of players was going to have to be convened to discuss the aims of this particular strike action. As could be predicted — by this piece here, and by myself here — it was going to come down to the most powerful players to make the call. Notice that LeBron James’ name pops up there.
The wording there — “it was in their best interests to finish out the season” — is the sticking point and one that I believe is very much up for debate. It remains unclear if the players’ platform, used to speak to these issues, is enough. As per Woj’s last tweet above, we’ll see now if plans of action due indeed move forward on social justice issues. And we’ll see if said plans are big and forceful enough to enact real and lasting change. (We’ll also see if this has any effect outside the Bubble, with the ongoing protests in numerous American cities.)
Again, these problems are not on professional athletes to solve. But if this recent protest by the players is just a 24-hour affair, it at least makes it clear to the league’s power structure and everyone else, that they can leverage their ability to withold their labour to make demands. Whether or not those demands will be met remains to be seen.
We’ll update this (or another) post whenever the revised NBA playoffs schedule becomes available.