By Frank Pingue and Amy Tennery
(Reuters) – The National Basketball Association (NBA) said on Thursday it hopes to resume play in a day or two after a boycott by players protesting against racial injustice and police brutality, while President Donald Trump denounced the league as “like a political organization.”
The protest by the NBA players focused on the police shooting on Sunday of a Black man named Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin – an incident reminiscent of the killing while in police custody of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May that sparked anti-racism demonstrations and civil unrest across the United States and elsewhere.
Blake’s shooting has reverberated through U.S. professional sports, with leagues postponing games and practices, even as Trump and White House officials criticized the NBA players, a majority of whom are Black, for their protests.
The NBA players decided not to end their season after meeting among themselves in the bubble-like campus at Disney World in Florida, where games are being contested due to the coronavirus pandemic. The NBA Board of Governors met in an emergency session.
NBA Executive Vice President Mike Bass said the league is “hopeful” to resume games either on Friday or Saturday.
The league postponed its three playoff games scheduled for Thursday. The player protest began when the Milwaukee Bucks refused to take the court for Game 5 of their playoff series against the Orlando Magic on Wednesday, and the NBA postponed all three games on that day’s schedule.
The Bucks players said on Wednesday they were unable to focus on basketball due to the events in Kenosha, which is located about 40 miles (60 km) south of Milwaukee.
Several National Football League teams canceled their practices on Thursday, and ESPN reported that the National Hockey League will not play its scheduled playoff games on Thursday. Major League Baseball, Major League Soccer and the WNBA postponed games on Wednesday. The women’s league postponed its Thursday games as well.
Trump, during a briefing at the Federal Emergency Management Agency on Hurricane Laura, criticized the NBA.
“They’ve become like a political organization and that’s not a good thing. I don’t think that’s a good thing for sports or for the country,” Trump said.
It is not the first time that Trump has blasted the league. Earlier this month, Trump said some of its players are “very nasty” and “frankly very dumb.” Trump during his presidency has taken aim at Black athletes in particular, saying in 2018 of NFL players who knelt during the national anthem to protest police brutality: “maybe you shouldn’t be in the country.”
Since the NBA restarted its pandemic-interrupted season, courts have had “Black Lives Matter” painted on them and many players have worn jerseys with social justice slogans. NBA referees marched on Thursday around the Disney campus in support of the players, wearing black T-shirts with messages like “Everybody vs. Racism” and “Black Lives Matter.”
Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and adviser, told Politico he planned to reach out to NBA star LeBron James of the Los Angeles Lakers about the player protests.
James, a four-time NBA Most Valuable Player, wrote on Twitter on Thursday: “Change doesn’t happen with just talk!! It happens with action and needs to happen NOW!”
Kushner told CNBC that NBA players were lucky to have enough money so they could skip work to protest, adding that they have “put a lot of slogans out” rather than “actual action.”
Another White House official, Marc Short, was even more dismissive, calling the NBA players’ protests “absurd” and “silly.”
James, along with other NBA players and coaches, has been critical of Trump in the past. In 2018, he accused Trump of trying to use sports to divide Americans. Trump that year questioned James’ intelligence.
Former Vice President Joe Biden, Trump’s Democratic challenger in the Nov. 3 presidential election, and his running mate Senator Kamala Harris – the first Black woman on a major-party ticket – praised the actions of the NBA players.
Kenosha has been rocked by civil unrest and violence since Sunday, when police shot Blake, 29, in the back seven times at close range in an incident captured on video. Blake was left paralyzed by the shooting and is being treated for his injuries.
(Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto; Additional reporting by Daphne Psaledakis and Susan Heavey in Washington; Writing by Will Dunham; Editing by Bill Berkrot)