In late August, during the first round of the 2020 NBA playoffs, George Hill and the Milwaukee Bucks decided that in the wake of the Jacob Blake shooting, they would not play their scheduled game against the Orlando Magic. Their brave decision started a league-wide wildcat strike, and inspired teams across multiple sports to follow their lead.
Eventually the players agreed to return to the floor after extracting concessions from the owners in the form of donations, the use of arenas as voting sites in eligible areas and the founding of a social justice coalition. It was a historic and impressive few days, and thanks to Taylor Rooks’ story about her time in the bubble, we now have more insight into what happened behind the scenes.
Perhaps the most interesting note came from Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri, who revealed that if the Bucks hadn’t been the first team to sit out, the Raptors and Boston Celtics probably would have been. Via GQ Magazine:
And if George Hill hadn’t sat out, there was a strong possibility that a league-wide strike still would have taken place. The Raptors were set to play the Celtics the day after the Bucks decided to stay in the locker room. While the Bucks were deliberating, Raptors players Fred VanVleet and Kyle Lowry quietly met with members of the Celtics to discuss what they should do, and Masai Ujiri ran into Celtics coach Brad Stevens, and the two talked about not playing. “It was going to happen, to be honest,” says Ujiri. If it hadn’t been the Bucks who initiated the strike, it probably would have been the Raptors and the Celtics.
This isn’t to take away from what the Bucks did, because it’s extremely hard to be the first person or group of people to take action. None of them knew what was going to happen when they made that choice to sit out, but they felt it was the right thing to do, and had the courage to follow through.
But what Ujiri’s comments do show is how much grief and pain and anger the players were feeling. It wasn’t just the Bucks who didn’t feel like it was appropriate to court that day. It’s also interesting to consider this possibility in conjunction with the reports that many players were upset with the Bucks for acting unilaterally. One who wasn’t, however, was Celtics guard Jaylen Brown. During the big meeting players had in the aftermath of the Bucks’ decision, Brown stood up and gave the Bucks his support.
While heading into the bubble for months on end brought many challenges, especially from an emotional standpoint, the way it forced the players together also made them stronger. And never was that more evident in the days after the Jacob Blake shooting.