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Dan Bickley

NBA players’ boycott of Wednesday’s games is a breathtaking step

An empty court and bench are shown with no signage following the scheduled start time in Game 5 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series, Wednesday, Aug. 26, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. NBA players made their strongest statement yet against racial injustice Wednesday when the Milwaukee Bucks didn't take the floor for their playoff game against the Orlando Magic. (Kevin C. Cox/Pool Photo via AP)

Sports and history intersected on Wednesday. It felt like a meteor hitting the planet.

NBA players boycotted their scheduled playoff games. The Bucks demanded the Wisconsin legislature reconvene and address the issues of police brutality and racial inequality. Some baseball teams and players followed suit, sending strong messages from the world of professional athletics:

Listen to us or forget about watching us.

Take us seriously or we won’t be entertaining you any longer.

It’s a bold, breathtaking step from those who work in the toy department of life, where athletes have long been counseled to stick to sports.

It’s a risky move. America’s politics have become a frothing beast, no longer restrained by the code of empathy and civility. We are no longer one. We are one or the other. Surely, there will be those who boycott the boycotters, swearing off the NBA for good.

The most recent events in Kenosha, Wisconsin, are hard to fathom. It’s a stocky Midwestern town I frequented often as a teenager, where I could be served alcohol at a bar even though I was two years shy of the legal drinking age in Illinois. Maybe that’s why I remember it so fondly.

Now, it’s the scene of another white police officer shooting another Black man. There are many questions and actions requiring thorough investigation. But there’s no time left for that, for calm reasoning, for cooler heads to prevail. Besides, facts don’t seem to matter that much these days, anyway. Not enough to sway a diehard’s political leanings.

There was also a young man who drove to Kenosha from a Chicago suburb, just like I once did. Except he carried a rifle, eventually killing two protesters.

We are all fatigued. We are all anxious. Our national psyche has been worn thin by a pandemic, by our loss of normalcy. But there are too many people blinded by fury and void of humanity, and far too many people with nothing to lose.

Once, our biggest problem was leaving enough toilet paper on the shelves for others. Now it feels the entire country is descending into madness.

It’s awful to see a 244-year old country struggling to find its soul. It’s heartbreaking to see Clippers head coach Doc Rivers so low on spirit, lamenting how America just won’t love Blacks the way Blacks want to love America. It’s also inspiring to see a new generation of young athletes going where few have gone before, withholding their services in effort to bring real, immediate change.

While holed up in their locker room on Wednesday, the Bucks made their first power play. They reached out to key politicians in their home state of Wisconsin, making their own demands. And now these politicians have reason to act. Not just for the civic good, but for their own self-preservation.

Imagine if the Wisconsin Attorney General gets blamed for the cancellation of the NBA playoffs, costing the hometown Bucks a shot at glory? What if superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo threatens to leave the Bucks when his contract expires in 2021, putting the full-court press on the Wisconsin legislature?

The current NBA season will never be forgotten. We’ve seen a team pulled off the court and an entire sport paused when Rudy Gobert tested positive for COVID-19. We’ve seen a team pulled off the court because the opponent wouldn’t come out of the locker room for reasons of protest, a team that wouldn’t diminish the events in Wisconsin by glorifying that state on the basketball court.

Twice in one season, we’ve seen the NBA come to a screeching halt. Once for a pandemic. Once for racial unrest. What’s next?

Stay tuned. And, please, fasten your seat belts. It’s 2020 and anything can happen. We’ve all learned that the hard way.

Reach Bickley at dbickley@arizonasports.com. Listen to Bickley & Marotta weekdays from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station.


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Bickley & Marotta

Dan Bickley bio
Dan Bickley is the most influential sports media member in Arizona sports history, having spent over 20 years as the award-winning lead sports columnist for The Arizona Republic and AZCentral.com and almost two decades as a Valley sports radio talk show host. In spring 2018, Bickley made the decision to leave the newspaper to join the Arizona Sports team as host of the entertaining and informative midday show Bickley and Marotta, as well as bring his opinionated and provocative column exclusively to ArizonaSports.com.
Bickley’s journalism career began in his hometown of Chicago, where he was part of a star-studded staff at the Chicago Sun-Times. He chronicled Michael Jordan’s six NBA championships; covered the Olympics in eight different countries and attended 14 Super Bowls; spent three weeks in an Indianapolis courthouse writing about Mike Tyson’s rape trial; and once left his laptop in an Edmonton bar after the Blackhawks reached the Stanley Cup Finals.
He has won multiple awards, written two books, formed a rock band, fathered three children, and once turned down an offer to work at the New York Times.  His passions include sports, music, the alphabet, good beer and great radio. After joining Arizona Sports 98.7 FM, he couldn’t be happier