ORLANDO, Fla. — When finally his anger boiled over, LeBron James decided to get up and leave before the meeting was over. With him went his Los Angeles Lakers teammates.
It was Wednesday night, and they’d spent more than an hour in a ballroom at a hotel convention center on Disney World’s property, discussing the fallout from the Milwaukee Bucks skipping that afternoon’s game in protest of Jacob Blake getting shot. Now, their game against the Portland Trail Blazers and another between Houston and Oklahoma City had been postponed, but there was still no coherent plan for what to do next.
James, who prides himself on well-planned activism, had enough with the indecision. He was ready to stop the season. Still, there were those on his team who wanted to keep playing, who needed the season to continue with an eye on their future.
By Thursday morning, most of the Lakers were in agreement: they wanted to finish the season.
“LeBron’s emotions got the best of him yesterday and today he calmed down,” a person familiar with the meetings said. “He talked to a lot of different people. Yeah, he changed his mind about playing, but he was always for what everyone else wanted to do, whatever the majority was. It wasn’t until what Milwaukee had going on that kind of sent him over.”
The Bucks didn’t tell anyone in advance they had decided to not play Game 5 of their first-round playoff series against the Orlando Magic.
That decision came moments before the game was scheduled to start, after some of them were in full uniform. And it caught the Magic and all of the other teams off guard.
After three hours of deliberation at the arena, behind a door with a temporary sign bearing the image of a deer, the Bucks emerged together. In a cold, concrete hallway they stood somberly in front of a group of about 10 reporters to explain why they could not focus on basketball.
They explained that a police officer in Kenosha, Wis., shooting Blake in the back seven times, and a teenager fatally shooting two protesters, had escalated the American crisis to a point where they had to stop. Kenosha is only 40 miles from Milwaukee and they felt the weight of responsibility. George Hill and Sterling Brown read a statement to reporters demanding that the Wisconsin state legislature call a special session and hold police accountable.
They didn’t answer questions, including one shouted as they walked away:
“Do you guys intend to finish the season?”
The Bucks were grappling more urgently with what had been on many players’ minds before they arrived at Orlando.
In the weeks before teams entered the bubble, several players expressed concerns about resuming the season. Some worried that the momentum building around the country by protests against racism and police brutality would fade.
On May 25, a Minneapolis police officer knelt on the neck of George Floyd for nearly nine minutes. The incident, which led to his death, was captured on video and protests erupted around the country in its aftermath.
Floyd’s death came at a time when two other unarmed Black people – Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia and Breonna Taylor in Kentucky were killed.
After a night’s sleep Wednesday, the Lakers met again as a team. Players from other teams filed into the general meeting space late Thursday morning and waited for the Lakers to join them.
Howard and Lakers guard Rajon Rondo, who is from Louisville, Ky., where Taylor was killed, were the two most prominent players in favor of not finishing the season.
That group felt they would better serve the community on the front lines.
But more of them wanted to play with so much on the line financially and the ability to continue having a platform to speak; not to mention the chance to win a championship.
They moved forward in support of continuing the season.