Opinion: Milwaukee Bucks’ decision not to play NBA playoff game will alter the course of history

There are moments that transcend sports, actions that get seared into the public consciousness and alter the course of history.

The Milwaukee Bucks’ decision not to play their playoff game – and the NBA in turn postponing the day's games – is one of them. By refusing to take the court Wednesday afternoon, the Bucks are forcing America to confront what too many would rather ignore, excuse away or, worst of all, accept.

Systemic racism, the poisonous attitudes and mindset that allow a police officer to treat a Black person as if they have no worth, no humanity, is woven tight into the fabric of this country. Every aspect of American society – be it education, housing, our criminal justice system, banking, you name it – is guided by racism.

We want sports to be our escape, to allow us to forget about the evils of the world for a couple of hours. But there can be no more escape. Black athletes are tired of being used for our amusement only to be treated like trash as soon as they take off their uniforms.

“We’re fed up. Enough is enough,” Alex Lasry, senior vice president of the Bucks, said on Twitter. “Change needs to happens.” 

For three months now, ever since a white police officer knelt on George Floyd’s neck and squeezed the life out of him, America has been reckoning with our most original sin. But despite marches and protests, despite ad campaigns and T-shirts, despite promises that this time will finally be different in a away it wasn’t after Eric Garner, Philando Castile, Tamir Rice and far too many others, not a damn thing has changed.

On Sunday afternoon, a police officer pumped seven bullets into the back of Jacob Blake, whose great “crime” seems to be disobeying an order to stop. Blake is still alive, fortunately. But for Black people, his shooting was further proof that their lives really don’t matter to America. That we’re never going to accept their full humanity.

The game clock sits at 0.0 after the scheduled start time of Game 5 between the Bucks and Magic. (Photo: Kevin C. Cox, Pool Photo-USA TODAY Sports)

For three days now, just as they have after all the other incidents of police brutality, Black athletes have been baring their souls, asking what more they need to do to achieve that liberty and justice that is supposedly for all.

“We keep loving this country,” Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers said Tuesday night, his voice thick with emotion. “And this country doesn’t love us back.”

But the Bucks’ protest shows they are tired of asking. They are tired of talking when no one is actually listening. They’re tired of waiting quietly for change that has not yet come.

For the Bucks, as much as anyone, this is deeply personal. Kenosha, where Jacob Blake was shot, is about 40 minutes south of Milwaukee. Milwaukee remains one of, if not the most segregated cities in the country, and Bucks players have not been immune from the effects of that discrimination.

In January 2018, Sterling Brown was abused by Milwaukee police. In October 2015, a jewelry store owner called 911 on John Henson. Bucks owners have been outspoken in saying this country needs fundamental change, starting in their hometown.

One NBA game unplayed might not seem seismic. But it is the small gestures – the raised fists of John Carlos and Tommie Smith, the bent knee of Colin Kaepernick – that have led to the biggest changes.

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