The National Basketball Association (NBA) said on Thursday it hopes to resume play in a day or two after a boycott by players protesting racial injustice and police brutality, while President Donald Trump denounced the league.
NBA Executive Vice President Mike Bass said the league is “hopeful” it will resume games Friday or Saturday after the protest, which was sparked by the police shooting of Jacob Blake, a Black man in Kenosha, Wisconsin, and led to game cancellations in other sports as well. The NBA players, a majority of whom are Black, decided not to extend the boycott in a meeting on their quarantined campus at Disney World in Florida, where games have occurred due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Trump, during a briefing on Hurricane Laura on Thursday, criticized the NBA for postponing six games in response to the players’ action. “They’ve become like a political organization and that’s not a good thing,” Trump said.
The basketball players’ protest began when the Milwaukee Bucks refused to take the court for Game 5 of their playoff series against the Orlando Magic on Wednesday.
The Bucks players said they were unable to focus on basketball due to demonstrations and violence in Kenosha, which is about 40 miles (60 km) south of Milwaukee.
The police shooting of Blake reminded Americans of the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody in May.
That incident sparked anti-racism demonstrations and civil unrest across the United States and globally as well as prompted a national reckoning on race and justice that has rippled through U.S. life.
After the player boycott on Wednesday, the NBA postponed all three games on that day’s schedule as well as three playoff games on Thursday.
The National Hockey League (NHL), which faced social media criticism for not immediately delaying matches too, on Thursday postponed playoff games for that day and Friday.
“We understand that the tragedies involving Jacob Blake, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others require us to recognize this moment,” the NHL and its players’ association said in a joint statement.
Several National Football League teams canceled their practices on Thursday, while Major League Baseball, Major League Soccer and the Women’s National Basketball Association postponed games on Wednesday. The women’s league delayed its Thursday games as well.
“While our passions continue to run high, we are proud that our players and clubs, League and Union, are taking time to have the difficult conversations about these issues that affect the Black community and other communities of color in America,” the NFL and its players’ association said in a joint statement.
White House vs Players
The episode highlighted existing animosity between the White House and players. Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and adviser, told Politico he would contact NBA star LeBron James of the Los Angeles Lakers about the player protests, and he told CNBC players were lucky to have enough money that they could skip work to protest.
James, a four-time NBA Most Valuable Player who in 2018 accused Trump of trying to use sports to divide Americans, wrote on Twitter: “Change doesn’t happen with just talk!! It happens with action and needs to happen NOW!”
Trump said this month that some NBA players are “very nasty” and “frankly very dumb.” In 2018, he said to NFL players who took a knee during the national anthem to protest police brutality: “Maybe you shouldn’t be in the country.”
Since the NBA restarted its pandemic-interrupted season, courts have had “Black Lives Matter” painted on them and many players have worn jerseys with social justice slogans. NBA referees marched on Thursday at the Disney campus in support of the players.
Former Vice President Joe Biden, Trump’s Democratic challenger in the Nov. 3 presidential election, and his running mate Senator Kamala Harris – the first Black woman on a major-party ticket – praised the actions of the NBA players.
Kenosha police shot Blake, 29, in the back seven times at close range in an incident captured on video. Blake was left paralyzed by the shooting and is being treated for his injuries.
—Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto; Additional reporting by Daphne Psaledakis and Susan Heavey in Washington; Writing by Will Dunham; Editing by Bill Berkrot and Cynthia Osterman