Behind the Milwaukee Bucks' Boycott of the NBA

By Isa Khalid ’22

Bucks players reading their team's statement (Photo Credit: Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty)

On August 26, 2016, Colin Kaepernick decided to take a knee during the National Anthem of a preseason game, protesting against racial injustice and police brutality in America. Four years later, on the exact same day, the Milwaukee Bucks decided to boycott game 5 of their playoff series with the Orlando Magic, shocking the sports world. 


At approximately 4:10 in the afternoon, the Milwaukee Bucks were supposed to take the court and play their playoff game against the Orlando Magic. Instead, the Bucks were sitting in their locker room, refusing to take the court. Led by veteran George Hill, the Bucks made the decision to boycott their game in protest against the shooting of a Black man, Jacob Blake, that occurred a few days prior. Hill has been well known in the league to be an activist for social justice. In response to this act of ruthless brutality, Hill said, “Watching stuff that happened in Wisconsin the other day really breaks my heart. We’re down here playing the bubble to do these things for social justice and all that, and to see it all still going on and we’re just playing the games like it’s nothing, it’s just a really messed up situation right now.” Just like George Hill, other NBA players were frustrated with the constant police brutality against Black people in America. Their unprecedented move to boycott the game impacted not only the NBA but all major sports leagues across the country as well. Later that day, the MLB, MLS, and WNBA followed the NBA and postponed their games. The NHL followed suit the very next day. Even the NFL, whose season had not yet begun, canceled their practices for the day. The sports world was put on a halt, and the country was watching. 


What’s next? Will the players continue their season? What was the point of boycotting? Questions like these were filling up the minds of every American sports fan. As we eagerly waited for more news on what was going to occur after this historic day in sports, players demanded that owners, general managers, and policymakers across the country advocated for social change. 


The results were incredible. The NBA players made an agreement with the NBA league office to create a social justice coalition, focusing on criminal justice reform and voting access in the United States. 19 out of the 30 NBA teams will now use their arenas as either polling locations or voting centers. The players and the Association agreed to resume play on the following Saturday, as long as the owners promised to continue fighting for social change. Lakers superstar Anthony Davis said, “If they don’t, we won't play again. It's as simple as that.” This message, alongside the boycotting, was powerful, gaining the attention of the NBA owners around the league. The notion that players were willing to sit out of ball games and risk their livelihoods to stand up for social issues was eye-opening for these owners and has forced them to take deep consideration on how they can help the players in this movement. Owners and NBA top officials have now discussed the possibility of collaborating with an outside social justice team, one to represent the players whenever they may need help in taking action. With this plan in place, alongside the new voting locations in nineteen NBA arenas, the league has made great progress in social change and has set a precedent for other major American sports leagues to follow. Hill and the rest of the Bucks’ courage was incredibly impactful and has already been successful in fighting for its message: social and racial justice in America, specifically in the world of sports.