NBA players are forcing everyone to listen

You told them to “shut up and dribble.”

You told them to “keep politics out of sports.”

You told them their games, their talent, their Black bodies are your “escape” and you just want to watch the games.

On Wednesday, they told you in no uncertain terms that they will not entertain you.

Not now anyway.

The brave Milwaukee Bucks players decided to strike. The team that plays so close to Kenosha, Wisconsin, where the police shooting of Jacob Blake on Sunday sparked protests that were horrifically marred by a 17-year-old allegedly opening fire on Tuesday night.

They would not play in Game 5 of their playoff series against the Orlando Magic.

They could not.

Since the NBA resumed play inside its bubble in Florida, there have been “Black Lives Matter” T-shirts and patches, and jerseys reading “Enough” and “Equality” and “Education Reform” and “Listen to Us.”

They’ve locked arms and kneeled during the anthem.

They’ve avoided answering X’s-and-O’s questions to instead shine a light on the fact that the Louisville officers who killed Breonna Taylor are still walking free, two of the three still employed.

They’ve encouraged all of us to vote.

The NBA and the players association have pledged to donate $300 million to bolster Black economic empowerment, helping education and youth employment programs.

And none of it has led to any meaningful change. None of it kept Blake from being shot multiple times in the back, likely paralyzed for the rest of his life, according to his family. And Blake is one of the lucky ones — he’s not dead like George Floyd or Rayshard Brooks or Elijah McClain or Taylor.

So they did the most meaningful thing they could do: They didn’t play.

They would not entertain you on this day.

They withheld the only thing many fans and many Americans see when they look at them: their talent.

They’ve asked you time and again to pay attention. They’ve asked you to speak up, if not in front of your local city hall then at least at your own dinner table. They’ve begged you to acknowledge what happens in this country, the data-backed, dyed-in-the-wool systemic racism Black Americans face every day.

The kind of racism that doesn’t spare you no matter how many zeroes are on your pay stub.

They’ve tried to bring your attention to these things. They asked you to care.

They’ve shared their own stories. The Bucks’ Sterling Brown had a knee on his neck, a boot on his ankle and was tased in Milwaukee two years ago over parking illegally in a Walgreens lot. Five years ago, then-Bucks player John Henson wanted to patronize a jewelry store in a Milwaukee suburb and the store workers called police, barring him from entering.

They want you to recognize their humanity.

They want you to recognize the humanity of men like Floyd and the fact that in no part of this country is on-the-spot death the legal punishment for “not complying.”

And then Blake was shot by police, reportedly in front of his young children, and two people were killed, a third injured, allegedly by a rifle-toting teenager 40 minutes south of where the Bucks play their home games, and they were done.

They can’t escape the violence and the fear of being Black, so you can’t escape to your big screen to watch them play.

What happens from here isn’t completely clear. It doesn’t need to be.

In a statement the Bucks demanded that the officers involved in Blake’s shooting be held accountable, and that state lawmakers reconvene and “take up meaningful measures to address issues of police accountability, [police] brutality and criminal justice reform.”

On Wednesday, the Bucks did something extraordinary. The teams that followed and declined to play their games, including the fearless players of the WNBA and the Milwaukee Brewers, did something extraordinary.

They’ve asked you to see them and hear them.

You told them to shut up and entertain you.

They would not entertain you on this day.

Will you hear them now?

The Washington Mystics each wear white T-shirts with seven bullets on the back to protest the shooting of Jacob Blake. (Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images)

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