What I’m Hearing: USA TODAY Sports’ Mark Medina was on site when the Milwaukee Bucks made the decision to boycott their Game 5 matchup against the Magic and details the experience.
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — The gym looked, sounded and felt emptier. Even more so than in the past few weeks when the NBA hosted games without any fans.
This time, there weren’t any teams on the court, either. Neither were there any coaches patrolling the sideline. Neither were there any scouts and executives sitting on the socially distanced seats across from the court.
The courts still remained illuminated with broadway stage lights from above. But the 17-foot video boards did not have any team montages or ads flashing on the screen, anymore. No longer was there an arena DJ playing hip hop that featured either a current, early 2000s or 90s playlist.
The reason? The Milwaukee Bucks had just decided to not play Wednesday’s Game 5 of their first-round playoff series against the Orlando Magic at AdventHealth Arena scheduled for a 4:10 p.m. ET tip-off. The details remained so tightly lipped that some Bucks, Magic and league officials remained unaware of the team’s plans until the countdown clock read zero. Nonetheless, the NBA, the Bucks’ and Magic’s owners, as well as all other NBA teams, expressed public support for the Bucks’ stance.
Anger, frustration and sadness emerged as the NBA’s players processed Kenosha, Wisconsin, police officers shooting Jacob Blake seven times. Blake is currently paralyzed from the waist down and may never walk again, family and lawyers said. The incident has ignited more protests of law enforcement killing unarmed Black people. Heck, the NBA restarted its season on a Disney campus site here partly because the players union received assurances the league would support with words and actions they hoped to use during this season restart as a platform to bring change to racial injustices.
“We shouldn’t even have came to this damn place to be honest,” Milwaukee Bucks guard George Hill said earlier this week. “Coming here just took all the focal points off what the issues are.”
So on Wednesday, the Bucks redirected their focus toward the focal points.
The Bucks arrived to the arena. Coach Mike Budenholzer conducted a pregame press conference via Zoom. The team had participated in pregame warmups. Once they did not appear on the court when the clock sounded, the NBA became fully aware of what happened. The Magic quickly left the arena, while the team spent the next 45 minutes transporting their luggage. A venue that mostly featured usually just two NBA teams, a handful of security guards, media members and public relations officials suddenly became even more eerily quiet.
BUCKS PLAYERS: ‘Our focus today cannot be on basketball’
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At 5:05 p.m. ET, the NBA announced they would postpone all three playoff games between the Bucks-Magic, Oklahoma City Thunder-Houston Rockets and the Los Angeles Lakers-Portland Trail Blazers. Lakers star LeBron James became one of the most vocal, making clear that the players opted for a boycott as opposed to the league postponing games. Either way, both sides were bracing for a long night to figure out the next step.
The Bucks spent the next three hours in the locker room to determine their next step. While equipment managers and staff members transported their luggage, the Bucks talked with Wisconsin’s attorney general (Josh Kaul) and Lt. Gov Mandela Barnes about how the state would enact law enforcement reforms, according to reports. The Bucks’ players and coaches stayed in the locker room that whole time, with exception of a few leaving for a bathroom break. Then around 7:20 p.m. ET, the Bucks emerged out of the locker room.
Bucks players, coaches and staff members stood in front of a handful of reporters. They stood behind Hill and Sterling Brown. Hill wore a black T-shirt that quoted former President Barack Obama saying, “change will not come if we wait for some other person or if we wait for some other time.” The shirt added, “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.” Brown had sued the City of Milwaukee, its police chief and officers in 2018 after he was taken to the ground, tased and arrested after getting stopped for a parking violation. On Wednesday, Brown wore a black T-shirt that read, “Black All the Time.”
Hill spoke first.
“Thank you guys for taking the time to stay here with us,” Hill told a handful of reporters. “We’re sorry it took a little bit more time. But we thought it would be best for us as a team to brainstorm a little bit, educate ourselves and not rushing into having raw emotion. On behalf of ourselves and team, we’re going to place a statement as a team today and go back and educate ourselves and have better awareness of what’s going on and then speak to you guys later.”
Brown then began reading from the Bucks’ statement.
“The past four months have shed a light on the ongoing racial injustices facing our African-American communities. Citizens around the country have used their voices and platforms to speak out against these wrongdoings,” Sterling said. “Over the last few days in our home state of Wisconsin, we’ve seen the horrendous video of Jacob Blake being shot in the back seven times by a police officer in Kenosha, and the additional shooting of protesters. Despite the overwhelming plea for change, there has been no action, so our focus today cannot be on basketball.”
Sterling stopped speaking. Then he passed the statement to Hill for him to finish.
“When we take the court and represent Milwaukee and Wisconsin, we are expected to play at a high level, give maximum effort and hold each other accountable,” Hill said. “We hold ourselves to that standard, and in this moment, we are demanding the same from our lawmakers and law enforcement. We are calling for justice for Jacob Blake and demand the officers be held accountable. For this to occur, it is imperative for the Wisconsin State Legislature to reconvene after months of inaction and take up meaningful measures to address issues of police accountability, brutality and criminal justice reform. We encourage all citizens to educate themselves, take peaceful and responsible action, and remember to vote on Nov. 3 on behalf of the Milwaukee Bucks.”
SportsPulse: Following their boycott of Game 5, the Milwaukee Bucks stood united in front of the media and explained why, in the aftermath of the Jacob Blake shooting, now is not the time for basketball.
The Bucks players, coaches and staff members then walked away toward their bus. A reporter asked, “Do you intend to finish the season?” No one on the Bucks answered the question.
NBA players and coaches then met at around 8 p.m. ET Wednesday night to discuss that topic for more than two hours. As reported by USA TODAY Sports and other outlets, the Los Angeles Lakers and Clippers were against finishing the NBA restart. But the NBA’s Board of Governors plans to have their own meeting on Thursday at 11 a.m. ET. Players were expected to talk again around the same time.
Before those talks took place, reporters were asked to leave the arena immediately to catch the shuttle bus back to the Coronado Springs hotel. For the first time in six weeks, there was no longer an NBA scrimmage, seed-in game or playoff matchup to watch. It remains unclear when the next NBA playoff game will take place, if at all.