NBA playoff games were cancelled for a second straight day on Thursday, but players pledged to return to the court as they sought support from team owners in tackling racial injustice.
In New York, Japan’s Naomi Osaka reversed her decision to withdraw from the WTA Western & Southern Open semi-finals on Thursday, saying she will now play the match that has been rearranged for Friday.
A Milwaukee Bucks boycott inside the NBA’s Orlando “bubble” on Wednesday sparked a wave of protest that ultimately saw dozens of games called off across an array of sports – basketball, football, baseball, ice hockey and tennis.
Black players, their teammates and supporters demanded action in the face of yet another police shooting of an African American after Jacob Blake was shot several times in the back in the Midwestern city of Kenosha on Sunday.
The Bucks boycott, which was joined by their scheduled opponents the Orlando Magic, prompted the NBA to postpone all three playoff games scheduled for Wednesday and three more slated for Thursday as players from all teams debated whether to continue the season already disrupted by coronavirus.
Players agreed on Thursday to continue the playoffs, with LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers – who had been in favor Wednesday night of abandoning the season – reportedly “on board” with the decision.
“NBA playoff games for (Thursday) will not be played as scheduled,” league executive vice-president Mike Bass said in a statement after an NBA Board of Governors meeting Thursday.
“We are hopeful to resume games either Friday or Saturday.”
ESPN and other US media reported late Thursday that games would most likely resume on Saturday.
Players from all 13 teams in Orlando, along with representatives from the National Basketball Players Association, the league office and NBA Labor Relations Committee Chairman and basketball legend Michael Jordan met Thursday to discuss player concerns.
Details of the meeting were not immediately available, but ESPN reported that players pushed for owners to join them in a “direct action plan” to promote voter turnout, police accountability and police reform legislation.
Meanwhile, the NBA’s stoppage continued to ripple through the sports world.
The National Hockey League, which didn’t postpone games on Wednesday, called off games in its quarantine bubbles in Toronto and Edmonton on Thursday and Friday.
“We understand that the tragedies involving Jacob Blake, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others require us to recognize this moment,” the league and its players association said in a statement.
“We pledge to work to use our sport to influence positive change in society.”
Seven Major League Baseball games were called off on Thursday and nine NFL teams cancelled practice with the start of their season just two weeks away.
Osaka agrees to play
Osaka, a two-time Grand Slam champion said in a statement on Wednesday that she had pulled out of her last-four clash with Belgium’s Elise Mertens in protest at the police shooting of black man Jacob Blake in Wisconsin.
However, after WTA and ATP chiefs announced a suspension of play at the tournament following anger over Blake’s shooting, Osaka said she has now changed her mind.
“As you know, I pulled out of the tournament yesterday in support of racial injustice and continued police violence,” Osaka said in a statement first reported by Britain’s The Guardian and The New York Times.
“I was (and am) ready and prepared to concede the match to my opponent.
“However, after my announcement and lengthy consultation with the WTA and USTA, I have agreed at their request to play on Friday.
“They offered to postpone all matches until Friday and in my mind that brings more attention to the movement. I want to thank the WTA and the tournament for their support.”
In her statement on Wednesday, Osaka had said she was not ready to play tennis following the Blake shooting.
“Before I am an athlete, I am a black woman. And as a black woman I feel as though there are much more important matters at hand that need immediate attention, rather than watching me play tennis,” Osaka said.
“I don’t expect anything drastic to happen with me not playing, but if I can get a conversation started in a majority white sport I consider that a step in the right direction.”
WNBA to return as well
The WNBA women’s basketball league postponed its slate of games on Thursday for a second day running, but players said they intended to return to the court on Friday.
Since resuming their season in a quarantine bubble in Florida, WNBA players have demanded justice for Breonna Taylor, a black woman who was killed in her own apartment by police in Louisville, Kentucky, who burst into her home executing a “no knock” search warrant.
Los Angeles Sparks forward Nneka Ogwumike, president of the WNBA players’ union, said Thursday’s pause in games was a “moment of reflection” for players and a chance for them to “recommit” to their fight for racial and social justice.
Demands for racial equality have reverberated across basketball following the killing of unarmed black man George Floyd by Minneapolis police in May.
The NBA’s coronavirus-halted season resumed last month against the backdrop of ongoing nationwide protests following Floyd’s death.
While the league has embraced the Black Lives Matter movement, the shooting of Blake – which Blake’s lawyer says left him paralyzed – galvanized players to further action.
Lakers superstar James, already backing a get-out-the vote initiative, said action was imperative.
“Change doesn’t happen with just talk!! It happens with action and needs to happen NOW!” James wrote on Twitter.
There was a predictably cool response to the NBA activism from President Donald Trump.
“They’ve become like a political organization, and that’s not a good thing,” Trump said
(With AFP inputs)