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NBA Players Missed an Opportunity by Not Boycotting the Remainder of the 2019–2020 Season

Professional basketball made a huge contribution to the Black Lives Matter movement but it could have been even more significant

In the wake of Jacob Blake, who is a Black man, being shot in the back seven times by police in Kenosha, Wisconsin, the Milwaukee Bucks took a strong stand by boycotting their Game 5 playoff game against the Orlando Magic. Their decision led to the league canceling all games for the next several days and led to a vote among players to decide whether or not to proceed with the remainder of the 2019–2020 season. Ultimately, they chose to resume games after a few days away. While the postponement and boycotting of games was an unprecedented stand in solidarity with efforts to combat racism and police brutality, the players missed an opportunity to make a much deeper impact by not packing it up for the remainder of the season.

Professional athletes have gone on strike for causes related to unions and labor relations but sitting out in solidarity of a social cause is new territory. It’s simply not done. Regardless of what side one might come down on in regards to the matter at hand, their action had immediate effect, as their decision rippled across the world, got people talking and even led to the postponement of a number of Major League Baseball games and some NFL training camp practices.

During the ensuing 24-hour period, the sporting world was on the edge of their collective seat, wondering if NBA players, since they had taken the first big step of boycotting a game, would go the remainder of the way and shut it down permanently in the name of reform and justice. Many players, including LeBron James, the face of the league, publicly expressed their disgust over the shooting and the ongoing state of affairs that has seen little if any tangible change. However, when it was finally put to a vote, players decided to come back and resume the season.

The “shut up and dribble” crowd don’t believe NBA players should use their expansive platform to voice anything besides opinions on their most recent games or explain why they’re in a shooting slump. Such opposition is because they either don’t believe their voices matter or because they’re afraid of the impact they might have if utilized to their fullest capability. However, the league, which is comprised of approximately 75% Black players, have both personal and professional stakes in what is going on in this country. Lending their influence to call for change is significant and a potential game changer.

The first goal of any effective protest is getting as many people talking about it as possible. The NBA player’s temporary boycott injected new life into the national (and world-wide) conversation that has been ongoing for years and sparked in 2020 by the Black Lives Matter movement. Having such prominent icons of popular culture taking a stand is a significant win for the hope to effect change, but to truly create more lasting impact, more was needed.

Perhaps the greatest agent of change is when money is involved. The more money on the line, the quicker people listen. The NBA generates approximately $8 billion in annual revenue. There are also additional billions tied up in merchandising, television deals, endorsements and many more partnerships and ventures. This all trickles down to smaller business owners, who sell merchandise, accommodations, food and other items related to the consumption of professional basketball. Cutting off the games, which is the engine that makes this whole massive and lucrative machine run, would get the attention and concern of a lot of people fast.

To be sure, ending the NBA season early would have been the shot heard around the world. It would have had an undetermined effect on the league, as a significant number of people would certainly be in opposition, although whether or not they abandoned their fan-ship would remain to be seen. In an economy already shattered by the COVID-19 pandemic, the impact of shuttering the NBA would have had an especially effective impact on making people with financial stakes put up or shut up about racism and police brutality.

Calling for a boycott of the remainder of the season would have been a huge sacrifice for players. Doing so would cast all but a small percentage of the biggest stars’ futures into doubt given the uncertain position it would have put the league. They can’t be blamed for being fearful or unwilling to take their stance that far, but it’s impossible to not wonder about the possibilities if they had.

NBA players were brave and even heroic in standing by their conscience and supporting game boycotts in the name of justice. The simultaneously simple and difficult act did more good to fight racism and police brutality than the average person can ever hope to accomplish. They should be applauded and recognized for their contribution. However, if they had been willing to take it another step further (granted a big step), it could have been a game changer; the likes of which efforts for American social justice reform have not seen before.

Written by

Dabbler in history & writing. Master’s degree in baseball history. Passionate about diversity, culture, sports and education.

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