Opinion: How NBA players withheld their labor in pursuit of justice

Los Angeles Lakers' LeBron James, center, points upward after the national anthem before an NBA basketball first round p
Los Angeles Lakers’ LeBron James, center, points upward after the national anthem before an NBA basketball first round playoff game against the Portland Trail Blazers Saturday, Aug. 29, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

Have you ever dreamed of being a professional athlete? When I was a kid, I wanted to play basketball for the Los Angeles Lakers.

OK, yes, I actually still want to. After all, what could be better than playing sports for a job?

Well, only a very hardworking and gifted few ever make it that far. They are thankful to make money playing basketball, but the players are like you and me in a lot of other ways. They love their families. They care about their communities and fans. And they want to make the world a better place.

A few weeks ago, on a Thursday, I was excited to watch my Lakers take on the Portland Trail Blazers in a game at Disney World, where the NBA playoffs are this year so players can more easily avoid COVID-19. But there ended up not being any basketball games that day. There weren’t any NBA or WNBA games on Friday either. A lot of pro baseball and soccer games were called off, too.

Why did the players refuse to play? Don’t they enjoy playing and getting paid? Of course! But they decided some things are more important than sports.

When the Milwaukee Bucks saw a video of a police officer shooting Jacob Blake, a Black man who lived less than an hour from their hometown, the players couldn’t just go on with their lives like nothing happened.

So they went on strike. They decided not to work that day. Instead, they talked to politicians and other people in power about seeking justice and making their community safer for everyone.

Guess what I would have been doing that Thursday had the Bucks, Lakers and other teams still played? Watching basketball. Escaping from the real world. Instead, I spent the night listening to what players had to say about their experiences with racism and police violence. I talked to my friends about it, too. I thought about how sad it made me, how sad and angry Jacob’s family must have been and how scared it probably made people.


When something sad or scary happens, it can feel easier to just try to forget about it or look away. Instead of doing that, NBA players tried to make things better, even though it could have cost them a lot of money by not playing.

NBA owners were forced to listen to the players because of the strike, and now the NBA is creating a group of players, coaches and other team members that will focus on voting access, police reform and criminal justice reform. A lot of arenas are going to be turned into places for people to vote this Election Day.

I was excited to watch the Lakers play basketball again after the strike. When we cheer on our teams, we’re letting the players know we stand with them. I think we should do that when they’re not playing basketball, too. Listen to what they say, even if we don’t agree with every single point. Helping other people always feels better than winning a game.


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