“Bring everything we have.”
That was the tweet. Yesterday, at 1:40 p.m., just hours before Game 5, the Thunder’s official Twitter account posted this short statement accompanied by a highlight reel from the Thunder’s first-round series against the Rockets. We’ve seen statements and videos like these before. The kind of pre-game messaging that makes fans feel like they’re a part of the team, that their emotional buy-in could impact the scoreboard. We’re all-in, and it’s going to take all of us.
Yet the afternoon unfolded differently once the Milwaukee Bucks decided to boycott their game against the Magic, in wake of the shooting of Jacob Blake by Kenosha, WI police officers. Other teams followed their example, resulting in the cancelation of all three of Wednesday’s playoff games. The Bubble became quiet. The only thing on the basketball courts on Wednesday (and now Thursday) were three heavy words: Black Lives Matter.
You knew this playoff run was going to be different. Deep down, you assumed that play would be halted at some point, but by symptoms not by a shooting. So while fans lean in to know when games will resume, the entire country is also left to ponder, “what’s next in basketball and beyond?”
My head was spinning on Wednesday evening. I had cleared my schedule for game 5. The return of the NBA has meant a lot to me, even bolstering my weary mental health. The return of sports has helped daily life feel “normal” again in a time when kids go to elementary schools wearing masks and cashiers delicately stick receipts around plexiglass barriers.
Here’s the lesson: 48 minutes of basketball is only a temporary escape and it comes packaged with a thin veneer. The virtual fans and fake crowd noise are subtle reminders that things aren’t quite right. And when the Bucks didn’t show up on the court on Wednesday night, and the Thunder and other teams joined in the boycott, we had to stare with eyes wide open at the fact that so much in our country is not right.
Forced to face this reality, the natural response for some is anger and frustration. Social media comments have been all over the map. Some fans applauded the players’ actions. Some expressed frustration, wishing that “spoiled players” would not make sports political.
Something about this moment seems bigger than basketball and even bigger than politics. They are both part of the equation but don’t fully capture it all. You are hearing the desperate cries from real people who are currently bringing everything they have to confront our deeply-rooted national sin.
We don’t like to talk about the sin of racism. So we cling to our distractions, until they are taken away by the very people who create them. The silence makes us uncomfortable. And it should. Because when black athletes refuse to, “shut up and dribble” we have think about why. We witnessed history in real time on Wednesday afternoon. If the plight of a people goes ignored for long enough, shutting up, and now even dribbling, is not an option.
Empty basketball courts make us uncomfortable because you can’t look at them for long without being forced to look elsewhere. The silence forces us to look at a system of injustice, where black young men are imprisoned at a much higher rate than their white counterparts. The lack of basketball for 24-hours causes us to watch footage of men, who look like a majority of NBA players, being shot in the back seven times in broad daylight by police without recourse. I hated not being able to watch basketball last night but the boycott forces us to look inside and ask, “do we hate injustice more?”
Thunder fans, this should be personal. Bricktown is a two-hour drive from Black Wall Street. Loud City is two blocks from Katz Drug Store, where Clara Luper led sit-ins, ensuring that a school teacher would rewrite Oklahoma history. The Thunder represents a red state, founded on Indigenous lands, with a complicated racial history. But the Thunder has represented a rebirth and a new way since 2008. It put a sleepy capital city on the global stage, raising the Oklahoma Standard under the banner of community.
So now a group of men are asking fans who are willing to stand for them in Loud City to stand with them in protest. I suggest that we should. And if you are frustrated by the politicization of sports, would you respond, not with tweeting, but with listening? And while we might hate the sound of silent basketball courts, could you search your heart and find a way to ensure that silence off the court is no longer accepted?
May we all “bring everything we have” on and off the court.