- Bryce Warner
Activism in the Bubble
The National Basketball Association suspended their 2019-20 season due to players and staff members from different teams contracting COVID-19 back in March. The suspension led for months as the league was waiting for COVID-19 to slow down, as well as working to find a solution to finish the season. During that period, people nationwide were protesting for the justice of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and others whose lives were lost due to police brutality and racism. Players such as Boston Celtics guard Jaylen Brown and Indiana Pacers guard Malcolm Brodgen were seen on the frontlines protesting in their cities.
When talks began about resuming the season, everybody was on board. There’d be 22 teams, scrimmages, eight seeding games, then playoffs. It would take place in Orlando at the Walt Disney Resort. Social distancing would be enforced and testing would take place daily. But as talks went on, Brooklyn Nets guard and National Basketball Players Association Vice President, Kyrie Irving brought up the possibility of not playing at all in a call with players. He thought that with the resume of NBA basketball on television, it would take the focus off of the problems that people were currently protesting against. At the time, the main focus was on the wrongful murder of Breonna Taylor and fighting for her justice.
Instead of playing the rest of their season, players used their platforms, as professional athletes, to talk about the racial injustice going on in this country. Many of them responded to questions with: “arrest the cops that killed Breonna Taylor” in their interviews. Across the league, players wore warm up shirts that said “Black Lives Matter” and the back of their jerseys would have short messages such as “vote”, “how many more”, “love us” and more. Some players even customized their shoes with these same messages. Players would also kneel during the playing of the national anthem. The WNBA’s jerseys have Breonna Taylor’s name on the back of their jerseys. The NBA as well as the WNBA made sure that nobody lost sight in what was still going on outside of the bubble.
Then on August 23, video surfaced of the shooting of Jacob Blake. Blake was shot seven times in his back by police in Kenosha, Wisconsin. On August 26, the Milualkee Bucks were scheduled to play against the Orlando Magic in game five of the first round of the NBA playoffs. They decided not to play as a form of protesting police brutality. In the WNBA, the Washington Mystics wore shirts with seven bullet holes on the back of them, symbolizing the seven shots Jacob Blake took in his back. They would then walk off the court after the playing of the national anthem. All games scheduled for that day were postponed and players met to see whether they would continue the season or not. After much discussion the league decided to continue the season.
Players continued to use their voice to bring light to those issues. At the start of the conference finals, the NBA debuted new warm up shirts that say “vote.” This apparel change came about after team owners reached an agreement with players to use their arenas as voting locations. Many thought that bringing back the NBA during this time would be a distraction, but instead it further continued the conversation on police brutality and racial inequality. Players such as LeBron James, Chris Paul, Jamal Murray and many more realized the platform they had and made sure to use it to bring awareness to these issues. With the eyes all set on the NBA Finals, it’ll be interesting to see how they continue to bring awareness to social injustice and racism.