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'Step Back And Listen': How The Celtics And NBA Players Are Drawing Attention To Injustice03:31
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An empty court and bench are shown following the scheduled start time of Game 5 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series, Wednesday, Aug. 26, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (Kevin C. Cox/Pool Photo via AP)
An empty court and bench are shown following the scheduled start time of Game 5 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series, Wednesday, Aug. 26, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (Kevin C. Cox/Pool Photo via AP)

The Boston Celtics' playoff run has been delayed as players wrestle with how to carry on after another police shooting of a Black man. Earlier this week, a white officer in Kenosha, Wisconsin, shot Jacob Blake seven times in the back. And while the Celtics may be living in a bubble right now, their efforts to draw attention to the case are resonating back home.

In a video posted by the franchise, Celtics forward Jaylen Brown said he saw the video of the officer shooting Blake, and he now he can’t un-see it.

"People post my jersey all the time, number 7," he said. "And every time I look at my jersey now, what I see is a Black man being shot seven times."

The Celtics were scheduled to play Game 1 against the Toronto Raptors Thursday, but the game got postponed as the NBA walkout wiped out a second day of the playoffs. Players pledged to finish the postseason even as they wrestled with their emotions about wanting to bring change in their communities.

At a basketball court in Boston’s Allston neighborhood, Steven Gates said he supports what the players are trying to do.

"I feel like the players right now are kind of restricted being in that bubble," he said. "And I feel like maybe delaying the playoffs or maybe even leaving, if that’s one way they want to voice their opinion ... I’m totally for that."

And to those who criticize the athletes for speaking out?

"I think people should just take step back and listen to what these guys are trying to say, and think about what they’re trying to say, and really educate themselves on the racial justice issues going on in the country right now," Gates said.

Boston Celtics Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart were in attendance at the May 31 Black Lives Matter rally at the Massachusetts State House. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Boston Celtics Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart were in attendance at the May 31 Black Lives Matter rally at the Massachusetts State House. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Plenty of Celtics fans on social media have spoken out both for and against the players protesting. But it's not just the fans the players are speaking to. NBC Sports Boston sideline reporter Abby Chin said they’re also trying to put pressure on people in the front office.

"These owners we know are some of the most powerful and wealthiest people in America, and they can actually wield their power for good, and I think that’s what these players are looking for," she said.

And with billions in advertising and TV deals at stake, Chin said, those owners are probably listening pretty hard right now, the players have some leeway to flex their influence. Of course, if the players don’t play, they can lose out on pay, too.

"There are very real financial consequences for everyone involved," she said. With all this swirling around, Chin said other sports are taking notice.

"You can see it reverberating throughout the sports world," she said.

Just in Boston, both the Celtics and Red Sox will not play planned games Thursday night. And the Boston Bruins will not play its Friday night game.

"These owners we know are some of the most powerful and wealthiest people in America, and they can actually wield their power for good, and I think that’s what these players are looking for."

Abby Chin

These decisions to postpone games were part of a wider effort by American professional sports leagues sparked by the NBA players.

“We obviously agree that whether we play or not, we still have to do our best to make change and we still have to do our part in the community,” Orlando guard Michael Carter-Williams said in a video interview with a Magic public relations official.

“It’s obviously not easy, given everything that’s going on. But I think that if we can go out there and do our best and also have a list of things that we want to accomplish, everything gets completed.”

NBA spokesman Mike Bass said the league hoped to resume Friday or Saturday. He added in as statement that a group of players at Disney would hold a video conference call later Thursday with representatives of the owners, including Michael Jordan, and National Basketball Players Association to discuss the next steps.

The tennis tours had already decided they would pause play Thursday at the Western & Southern Open in New York; a number of NFL teams canceled practices; and the NHL postponed two nights of playoff games.

A second night of WNBA games were postponed and other teams and sports pondered whether they would play on.

“This is not a strike. This is not a boycott. This is affirmatively a day of reflection, a day of informed action and mobilization,” WNBA players’ union president Nneka Ogwumike said on ESPN.

“This is not a strike. This is not a boycott. This is affirmatively a day of reflection, a day of informed action and mobilization.”

Nneka Ogwumike

At least four Major League Baseball games also were postponed.

Before coming to Disney, many NBA players wrestled for weeks about whether it was even right to play, fearing that a return to games would take attention off the deaths of, among others, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd in recent months.

They ultimately decided that playing would give them the largest platform — while also providing a bigger target for critics.

“They’ve become like a political organization, and that’s not a good thing,” Trump told reporters, noting that the league’s ratings are down from previous seasons. “I don’t think that’s a good thing for sports or for the country.”

Material from The Associated press was used in this report.

Adrian Ma Twitter Reporter
Adrian Ma is a reporter for WBUR's Bostonomix team.

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