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Column: LeBron James, and other athletes, made the correct agonizing decision

Orlando Magic coaches wait for a game that never happened Wednesday in Orlando.
(Kevin C. Cox / Associated Press)

His play on the court doesn’t point to any decline, but the signs of age are there.

The receding hairline. The white in his beard.

And the birth certificate.

LeBron James will turn 36 in December.

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At some point in the relatively near future, the calendar will affect James the way it does everyone else, which speaks to the magnitude of his call for the Lakers to cancel the remainder of their season.

James isn’t guaranteed to have Anthony Davis on his team beyond these playoffs. The Lakers won more regular-season games than any team in the Western Conference and lead their first-round series against the Portland Trail Blazers, three games to one.

Athletes in the NBA, WNBA, MLB, MLS, NFL, NHL and professional tennis refused to take part in scheduled events in protest of the shooting of Jacob Blake.

By departing from Orlando, James could be walking away from his final opportunity to win a fourth championship. He’s not alone.

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An eventful day that started with the Milwaukee Bucks refusing to take the court against the Orlando Magic concluded with the Lakers and Clippers voting to cancel their seasons in a meeting with the other teams in the NBA bubble, according to Broderick Turner of The Times.

Nothing has been officially decided, but that doesn’t make what transpired any less extraordinary.

Consider the obvious, which is that these are professional athletes.

They want to play. They want to compete.

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As children, they not only bought into the dream of playing in the NBA, but also its mythology. By virtue of their talent and hard work, they gained entry to a parallel universe in which time is measured by seasons and success by championships.

The Lakers, Clippers and Bucks are in prime position to win a title. The Clippers are looking to win their first championship in franchise history, the Bucks their first since 1971.

Compared with what else is happening in this country at the moment, this might seem trivial. Except to the people who have dedicated their lives to this pursuit, it’s not. Those of you who love your jobs understand this.

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VIDEO | 02:06
Playoffs halted after NBA teams refuse to play in response to Jacob Blake shooting

The Milwaukee Bucks refused to play Game 5 of their NBA playoff series against the Orlando Magic in the aftermath of a police shooting 40 miles from their home arena, leading the NBA to postpone the games scheduled for Wednesday.

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So whichever side of the political spectrum you’re on, when you think of the games that were postponed Wednesday, imagine what it would take for someone to pause, or possibly abandon, what could be his or her best chance of realizing a lifelong ambition.

Envision what it would take for someone to do so without knowing what the consequences would be.

That’s how Black people continue to be treated in this country.

Watch the video of George Hill and Sterling Brown reading a prepared statement in front of the Bucks locker room. Notice the body language of their teammates.

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Players are looking down. Most of them had their hands behind their backs.

This was not a decision they made lightly. They look agonized. They wanted to play. They simply couldn’t. Not now, not against the backdrop of continued violence against Black people, including the shooting of Jacob Blake by a police officer in a suburb 40 miles south of their home arena.

“Despite the overwhelming plea for change, there has been no action, so our focus today cannot be on basketball,” Brown said.

Hill continued, “When we take the court and represent Milwaukee and Wisconsin, we are expected to play at a high level, give maximum effort and hold each other accountable. We hold ourselves to that standard, and in this moment, we are demanding the same from our lawmakers and law enforcement.”

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Here’s how the police shooting of Jacob Blake, an unarmed Black man in Wisconsin, stopped the NBA playoff games in Florida.

What’s the correct term for what happened on the court for the Milwaukee Bucks? Boycotts? Postponements? Strikes? Or something else? It’s a wildcat strike.

Many of these players lived in bubbles long before they entered the NBA’s in Orlando. The country’s obsession with sports allowed them to live an existence detached from reality, but only to a point. More than 80% of the players in the league are Black. Racism isn’t an abstraction to them.

To shut up and dribble is a luxury — a luxury these players don’t have as prominent figures in the Black community.

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On Wednesday, the games, or absence of them, served as reminders that our society is failing.

Have a problem with that? Don’t want to read about the world’s problems in the sports page?

Well, here’s an idea: Make the world a better place.

Maybe then, the players could afford to shut up and dribble.


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