LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Two days after Raptors guard Fred VanVleet wondered aloud whether a historic NBA boycott might be the only way to get action, Toronto’s playoff game against the Boston Celtics on Thursday night has been postponed.
But the NBA, reeling after the Milwaukee Bucks refused to play Game 5 of their opening-round series against Orlando on Wednesday, hopes to resume its post-season Friday or Saturday.
The NBA says it will hold a video conference call later Thursday with a group of players, governors for the 13 teams left in the playoffs, along with representatives from the National Basketball Players Association and the league office and NBA labour relations committee chairman Michael Jordan to discuss next steps.
The Bucks sparked a watershed sports moment in sports when they refused to play. That led to the postponement of all games Wednesday and Thursday, plus the postponement or cancellation of games in Major League Basement, Major League Soccer, the WNBA, and even tennis.
The Raptors were among the first players to speak about boycotting. The defending NBA champions had just come off a 4-0 opening-round sweep of Brooklyn, but were in no mood for celebrating.
“What are we willing to give up?” VanVleet said in an emotional Zoom availability with the media on Tuesday. “Do we actually give a (expletive) about what’s going on? Or is it just cool to wear ‘BLM’ on the backdrop or wear a T-shirt? What does that really mean? Is it really doing anything?”
When the NBA restarted in the bubble at Walt Disney World, COVID-19 seemed to be the biggest threat to finishing the season.
But after the shooting of Jacob Blake, a Black man, by police in Kenosha, Wis. _ which is about 65 kilometres south of Milwaukee _ last weekend, some players, including a couple of Raptors according to coach Nick Nurse, considered going home.
Players from all teams remaining in the NBA bubble met on Wednesday night, and according to reports, several Raptors were among the most vocal players there.
After the high-profile deaths of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd in recent months, many NBA players wrestled about whether it was even right to return to playing. They worried about whether games would take away attention from the conversation around social and racial justice issues.
Demanding change and ending racial injustice has been a major theme of the restart. The phrase “Black Lives Matter” is painted on the arena courts, players are wearing messages urging change on their jerseys and coaches are donning pins demanding racial justice as well.
The Raptors have led the way, arriving at Disney World in buses emblazoned with “Black Lives Matter.” The team has a social media campaign to encourage the more-than 600,000 Americans living in Canada to vote in the Nov. 3 U.S. presidential election.
For the Raptors, it’s also very personal.
Shortly after Toronto had clinched its first NBA title last June in Oakland, Calif., Ujiri became involved in an altercation with Alameda County sheriff’s deputy Alan Strickland while trying to reach the court. Last week, video emerged showing the altercation, which was followed by all-star guard Kyle Lowry pulling Ujiri on to the court and then hugging the Raptors executive.
The officer filed a lawsuit. Ujiri filed a countersuit in U.S. District Court in Oakland, Calif.
The team watched the video, which shows Strickland shoving Ujiri first, together last week.
“I think that we’ve got some pretty conscientious guys,” Nurse said. “We obviously have the footage and the situation with Masai, and our team just saw that recently as well, so there is some personal-ness to this.”
Raptors forward Pascal Siakam said Wednesday that players were feeling “stuck.” Norman Powell said “taking a knee is not getting it done.”
“I’m frustrated, honestly,” Powell said earlier this week. “I’m disappointed. I have a wide range of emotions . . . I’m pretty tired and sick to my stomach to have to sit up here and talk about this again.”
Nurse, who last weekend won the NBA’s coach of the year award, said he fully supported whatever his players decided, and understood their frustration.
“They want to be part of a solution, they want to help, they want justice . . . Boycotting the game (had) come up for them as a way to demand a little more action, and I think that’s really what they want,” Nurse said.
All NBA games are being played without fans and players are separated from the general public at Walt Disney World during the pandemic.