Photo: Kevin C. Cox, Getty Images
By now you know that NBA players went on strike Wednesday night in protest of both the Jacob Blake shooting and the violent white people industrial complex that helped make it happen. That strike quickly grew contagious. Six MLB teams refused to take the field. Six WNBA teams, including the Atlanta Dream — co-owned by Georgia Senator and rising star in corrupt racist s–tbaggery Kelly Loeffler — also refused to play. Only one Major League Soccer game went on Wednesday night, and that was because word had gotten to the two teams involved too late. Kenny Smith walked off the NBA on TNT set in solidarity. Wednesday night was one of those HOLY S–T THIS IS HAPPENING moments that make you feel alive and strangely hopeful in otherwise miserable times.
And I couldn’t see the purpose of it, at least initially.
I do now, obviously. But a few days ago, I got into an argument with some friends, who, after the Jacob Blake shooting, posed a prescient question: What if NBA players just walked out and went on strike in protest? Wouldn’t that be awesome? To which I was like, well, what would that accomplish? What would it change? What leverage do NBA teams have over, like, the mayor of Kenosha? And my friend Albert Burneko said to me, what if they just don’t wanna play, Drew? Why isn’t that a good enough reason? Why does there have to be a goal past that?
Burneko was irritatingly correct. You could see and hear the exhaustion from players and coaches BEFORE these strikes. You could listen to Chris Paul. Or to Doc Rivers. Or to LeBron. I’m a white guy, so I do not and cannot know the daily burden that all of these men, and that every black person in America, must carry. Hence, I was thinking about this strike from a strategic standpoint and not a human one.
This is a particularly American problem, where people like me leave their empathy behind and turn into results-oriented brand-bots. I was thinking through all this like I was f—ing Mayor Pete. Meanwhile, the second the final whistle blows, Chris Paul is right back to being haunted. That’s why he said what he said about the police shooting of Jacob Blake on Tuesday night, and it’s why the Milwaukee Bucks refused to come out of the locker room the day after.
There doesn’t have to BE a strategy to this. In fact, the NBA playoffs are going to resume, and cynicism has already begun to set back in that this strike will ultimately result in nothing but more empty sloganeering. But people close to the NBA walkout already saw this endgame coming. Chris Webber saw it coming in a speech he gave that, justifiably, went viral within minutes. So did Shaq, who spoke after Kenny Smith dropped his mic. Both Webber and Shaq expressed the kind of raw eloquence that you hear only from people who have seen some hard s–t. Here’s the full text of Shaq’s remarks (bold emphasis mine):
“African Americans are fed up. People that care are fed up. And something has to change. But I’m with Charles… what is the next step? Do you say okay, I’m gonna boycott the season? Because right now the games are just postponed. Something’s gonna happen next week. Something’s gonna happen next year. Something’s gonna happen next month. And I’m with you on whatever stand you take, but are we cancelling? Are we postponing? What’s the next plan? And how does this eliminate bad people’s thought process?
“I’m not sure cancelling a game is gonna make a racist person say, Oh! They cancelled the game! We’re not gonna be racist anymore! We have to identify certain areas. Certain problems. Root out the evil. Root out the problems. And we have to start systematically taking things down. Because again, we’re all businessmen here. We have the plan. And in order to take the plan to the next level, you have to take next steps. So again, November is coming up. Make sure you get a new DA. Make sure you get a new chief of police. Make sure you get a new mayor. Make sure you get a new president. Make sure you get a new sheriff. It’s in our hands. It’s always been in our hands. We need to put people in place that understand our language, understand our frustrations, and that’ll be where we start.”
That’s the key. This is the start. I am certain that Black people throughout America are VERY tired of starts. Of baby steps. Of small signs of progress toward a better tomorrow that never seems to arrive. Webber said as much in his speech last night, but then added this:
“That does not mean, young men, that you don’t do anything. Don’t listen to these people telling you don’t do anything because it’s not gonna end right away. You are starting something for the next generation and the next generation to take over.”
Those next generations seem awfully far away at the moment, but they’re not worth sacrificing at the altar of fatalism. As the Bucks’ strike unfolded, I instantly came around. Of course the players were doing the right thing. Of course it was time for them to collectively make both viewers AND owners uncomfortable, the way many individual players have been their whole lives. Of course it was time for them to tell the NBA front office that it needed to have a strategy of its own to deal with this uprising. Of course it was time for them to stop the machine, to let Americans know that what happened to Jacob Blake mattered to basketball players more than basketball did. The endgame wasn’t as vital to these players as the moment itself.
And holy s–t, the moment mattered. It proved indelible as it was unfolding. I sat there watching an empty court and I was like, well I was a f—ing idiot for questioning the idea of this strike.
I shouldn’t have needed the Bucks protesting to be enlightened — all of the horrifying violence I’ve already witnessed should have done the trick — but I and plenty of others did need enlightening. I and plenty of others do need to be forced to LISTEN.
A lot of people, predictably, refuse to do so, either because they’ve made a living profiting off of ignorance, or because they’re just f—ing morons themselves. Their reasoning hardly matters. What matters is that, thanks to these athletes — who were already risking their lives playing games in the middle of a plague — you know that there is a right side and a wrong side to this now. How the right side wins remains frustratingly elusive, but drawing the line is vital on its own.
MORE DREW: We are canceling the right people