The sports world came to a near standstill Wednesday afternoon when teams from multiple professional leagues chose not to play their scheduled games as a way to protest racial injustice.
The Milwaukee Bucks were the first team to strike and did not come out of the locker room for a Game 5, 1 p.m. tip off against the Orlando Magic in the first round of the Eastern Conference championships.
The wildcat strike, described as a stoppage of work by unionized workers without union approval, grew as all NBA teams from the other two scheduled games -- the Oklahoma City Thunder, Houston Rockets, Portland Trailblazers and Los Angeles Lakers -- opted not to play. All WNBA and MLS games for the day were also postponed, and several MLB teams chose not to play including the Milwaukee Brewers, Los Angeles Dodgers, San Francisco Giants and Seattle Mariners.
Porterville College head coach Rob Haynes, had the NBA channel on in the background and was sending his students emails when he got the news alerts about the Bucks’ strike.
“I wasn’t shocked because there was rumblings about it the day before,” Haynes said. “So I wasn’t shocked. I was probably more proud of them than anything else. Especially Milwaukee because I think they had the first game. So that kind of catapulted for everybody else to follow suit.
“I would say that I was probably more proud of Milwaukee for taking the initiative because it’s so close to the home for them,” he explained. “I don’t know if any other teams would’ve done that if they would’ve played first. But it’s crazy how the stars lineup.”
In their statement to the media, the Bucks specifically addressed the shooting of a Black man, Jacob Blake, by a police officer in Kenosha, Wis., located 40 miles south of Milwaukee, as a reason that they weren’t playing.
On Sunday, Blake, 29, was shot in the back seven times as he was walking away from police and attempting to enter his vehicle. In the vehicle were his three sons, ages 3, 5 and 8.
“Over the last few days in our home state of Wisconsin, we’ve seen the horrendous video of Jacob Blake being shot in the back seven times by a police officer in Kenosha, and the additional shooting of protesters. Despite the overwhelming plea for change, there has been no action, so our focus today cannot be on basketball,” the statement read.
After their announcement, the Bucks spoke to Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul and Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes about changes they wanted to make happen.
On players speaking out, Haynes said, “I’m OK with that cause they’re not just athletes. They’re not just looked at as basketball players. These are role models. These are people who at the end of the day, they may seem like superstars in our eyes or superheroes, but they’re humans. They’re humans. And I think that to sit back here and people get upset because they want to state their opinion, I think it’s wrong and that’s the problem.”
Following the reports of the strike, sports teams from across the nation at both the college and professional level talked about how they were now, more than ever, having conversations with players about racial injustice, voting, gun violence and more.
Haynes, who is Black, said he’s always had these discussions with his players and continues to have them even after players leave.
“We had discussions (about) George Floyd and stuff like that,” Haynes said. “With this one (Blake) that just happened recently, we’re going to have a Zoom meeting tomorrow. I’m going to have an in-depth meeting talking about this, because again we’re not face-to-face, so it’s kind of hard.”
Police shootings and race have been on the minds of many throughout the country this summer and early on, a boycott of the rest of the NBA season was advised by Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving. But players instead chose to play and the NBA supported the Black Lives Matter movement by lining the courts and wearing shirts with the message, for example. However, this week players and coaches said it was still hard to play with so much happening outside their bubble.
After a win Tuesday, Los Angeles Clippers head coach Doc Rivers, who is also Black, said “It’s amazing to me why we keep loving this country, and this country does not love us back. It’s really so sad. Like, I should just be a coach. And I’m so often reminded of my color. It’s just really sad. We gotta do better.”
Rivers' statement was one Haynes could relate too.
“For me, whether it’s in Porterville, whether it’s in LA, New York City; knowing the history, before I’m a coach -- I’m a black man,” Haynes said. “And so we know the history, I don’t think I need to explain that but however, I do talk to my athletes.”
Haynes has led predominantly black teams at the college since he was hired in 2013, but his communication with his athletes is not limited to those that share the same skin color as him.
“I talk to the ones that are presently here with me, especially the ones that come from inner cities that come from a different lifestyle or culture,” Haynes, who was raised in New York, said. “And not just my African-American players, I talk to my white players too. I talk to my Hispanic ones too because they may be with them. So I talk to all of them. Not just one side, I gotta make sure I talk to both of them and make sure, ‘Listen, you better look out for him. You guys have to self police one another, be the coach off the court.’”
Haynes said he teaches his players to never judge anyone by the color of their skin and to know right from wrong. But he also tells them how to speak with police and where to place their hands when they’ve been pulled over. He even advises keeping necessary information up top in the visor so a cop can always see your hands.
Like many Black parents, these are conversations Haynes also has with his five children, three of whom are in high school and middle school.
“It’s sad that I have to say that,” Haynes said. "That sounds crazy that I have to teach my kids how to talk to the police, or my athletes, just for them to possibly save their lives. That’s kind of [sigh]...but it is what it is.”
Still Haynes believes there are more good cops than bad and that people should do their best to listen to one another no matter how difficult that may be.
“I think they need to sit down and they need to talk,” Haynes said. “And they need to put all the sensitivity in the past and just sit back and listen to one another. Cause as a black man, you don’t understand where I’m coming from. But I don’t know understand where you’re coming from as a white man either. So let’s sit back and talk.
“Those conversations may be uncomfortable, and it is because talking about racial injustice is uncomfortable for a lot of people. But I think it is needed. It is needed so that people can understand where we’re coming from and the frustration that comes with it.”
On Thursday, NBA games were still postponed although ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that the NBA playoffs will resume with an expected start on Saturday.