NBA players had had enough and were willing to withhold their labor for Black Liberation. Then they made the mistake of calling our Nation’s First Black President.
I was playing 2k when my girlfriend told me the news. I was preparing to end my gaming session soon because I knew a slate of playoff games were set to begin, and I wanted to watch them. The Milwaukee Bucks said no more. I was shocked but also delighted. I felt that it was the right move, no, it was the only move. Jacob Blake had just been shot seven times in his back by police in Kenosha, Wisconsin, a few days prior. Kenosha is roughly 43 miles from where the Bucks call home. Milwaukee’s largest racial demographic are African Americans. Black Milwaukeeans had to be hurting even more than the rest of Black America, given their proximity to Kenosha. Their heroes of the hardwood decided to take a stand. The rest of the teams at the NBA’s bubble in Orlando joined them soon after. I felt it in my bones; we were about to build the collective capacity for a General Strike. Then, for some reason, they called Barack Obama, and, as we all should have expected, he politely told them to shut up and dribble.
The WNBA has undoubtedly taken the lead on the racial justice front, but the NBA has followed suit. From the messages on players’ jerseys to having Black Lives Matter printed on warm-up shirts and the playing courts. Their initiatives weren’t just symbolic, though, as players and commentators alike gave statements throughout the NBA restart on the importance of creating societal change. From George Floyd to Breonna Tayor, the names of those that have had their lives stolen from them have been mentioned continuously by the league and its media apparatus. Unfortunately, none of this stopped protestors from being brutalized in the streets by police, and most tragically, none of it was enough to keep Jacob Blake from being shot by police.
The players were on the cusp of going down a path similar to iconic athletes of the 60’s such as Muhammed Ali, Jim Brown, and Bill Russell. They were poised to use their platforms to show the entire world how vital it is for Black Lives to be valued. They were about to leverage their dazzling collective talents on societal changes. Then, Obama happened. What did they expect from a man that failed to address racial justice in his eight years as President meaningfully? What did they expect from a man that did nothing as the FBI targeted protestors in Ferguson? What did they expect from a man that traveled all the way to Flint, Michigan in the midst of their water crisis just to do this:
I understand that many Liberal Americans, specifically Black Americans, wish to hold the former President in the highest regard because of how empowering his election to the highest office of the land was. However, we must not allow ourselves to become drunk off of nostalgia and face the sobering truths about him. He is no friend of progress, and this latest ordeal with the NBA’s players is just another example as to why that is. If some of the wealthiest and most famous athletes in the country said shut it all down until Jacob Blake and every other Black victim of police brutality sees justice, they’d have set a powerful example. One that the rest of us would have been wise to follow.
At what point do we take our rallying cry ‘No Justice, No Peace’ seriously? When do we show the ruling class just how serious we are about the need for Black Lives to Matter? How many more? We’re still waiting for Breonna Taylor’s family to see justice. Jacob Blake is paralyzed from the waist down as he’s fighting for his life while being handcuffed to a hospital bed. Not only that, but hordes of people took to the streets to demand justice for Jacob, and a 17-year old white nationalist terrorist murdered two of them. Now, more has been done to punish Jacob, and to assassinate his character, for being shot in the back seven times than for the actual terrorist that killed two people that protested in his defense.
“Find out just what any people will quietly submit to, and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them…” Frederick Douglass, circa 1857.
Lebron James donned a shirt that read Vote or Die at the Lakers’ practice yesterday. Unfortunately, due to our collective acceptance of how things have gone, some of us won’t live long enough to cast our ballots. If COVID-19 doesn’t get us, the police and white nationalist terrorism is likely to pick up the slack. Moreover, our power goes beyond just voting, and we should be thankful that it does. The election is over two months away. If we vote Donald out, then his replacement won’t be inaugurated until two and a half months after that. We can’t wait that long. We need to organize and engage in collective direct action NOW. Jacob Blake’s kids watched as police threw their father's life away right in front of them. Are we going to wait until another family gets traumatized just like them? Enough is enough. It’s time to shut it down. It’s time to organize. It’s time to demand better from our government, and if they aren’t willing to meet our demands, it’s time to show them who’s boss.
We need to oust Trump, but no matter who wins the forthcoming election, we need to engage in direct action, too. Money doesn’t make the world go ‘round; labor does. If we take our labor away, our country cannot function. There may have been doubts about this before the quarantine began, but there can be no doubts about it now. If we refuse to allow anything to proceed in our nation until the government shows us that Black Lives Matter to them, what choice do they have but to meet that bare minimum of protecting our human rights? The NBA’s players are much richer than us, but that does not make them more essential than us. We can’t wait for another election or another Inauguration. We need to act now. Most importantly, we must understand that Barack Obama is not our friend. We can continue to be enamored with him because he’s handsome and articulate, or we can secure our collective Liberation. As he’s shown us, there is no in-between.