George Hill – playing for the Bucks in the bubble when police shot Jacob Blake in the back seven times – said, “We shouldn’t have came to this damn place.”
Two days later, the entire NBA was on strike.
How did players reach that point? There was talk of players boycotting the league’s resumption at Disney World before it began. But 98% of players on continuing teams reported to the bubble. Of players who chose not to play, none cited social justice as their primary reason.
Did so many players really change their position on playing? Not exactly.
It took only one.
Hill decided to sit out Bucks-Magic Game 5.
Tim Bontemps of ESPN:
Hill said that, outside of a conversation with Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer before the game, no one on his team was aware of what he was going to do until they found out he was inactive about 20 minutes before tipoff.
“I didn’t want to put that pressure on my teammates,” Hill said. “I didn’t want them to have to make that decision unless they wanted to. So as a teammate, I didn’t take it to them. That may be a little bit my fault on my part to not take it to them. But I didn’t want them to make a decision out of pressure, and because we have a good relationship.
“So before the game, guys were trying to figure out why I wasn’t playing. And we spoke about it. Sterling [Brown] spoke about it and wanted to stay in with us. And it was a trickle effect; every guy in our locker room stood by my side and said, ‘If my brother isn’t playing, then we aren’t playing.’ And we made that decision.
The “trickle effect” continued from there.
The Bucks reportedly intended only to forfeit Game 5 – not prompt an NBA-wide strike. But players on other teams didn’t know Milwaukee’s plan and followed in not playing. Suddenly, the entire league was on strike.
NBA players have too often prioritized unity, which has led to everyone rallying around the least-offensive gestures. But Hill didn’t wait to see whether everyone else agreed. He did what he thought was best for him. And one he made that leap, everyone followed.
The Bucks drew major attention to their specific demands – justice for Jacob Blake and the Wisconsin State Legislature addressing police accountability, police brutality and criminal-justice reform.
The league-wide strike was less-traditionally effective. Players agreed to play before meeting with owners. Players agreed to play before tangible gains were announced. That’s a consequence of players mostly not looking to strike in the first place.
But Hill wanted what could be described as part-mental-health day, part protest. Sterling Brown has his own personal connection to police violence. The Bucks also have excellent camaraderie.
Everything went into motion.
Though the larger strike’s direct gains have been limited, it made a loud statement on social justice. It echoed as teams and athletes in other sports sat out. And there’s seemingly no direct downside. Presumably, because NBA games were postponed rather than canceled, players won’t have their salaries reduced.
This was significant. And it can all be traced back to George Hill.