Long-tenured guard Kyle Korver, whose 2,450 career three-pointers rank fourth in league history, experienced one of the most surreal moments of the NBA Bubble in Orlando this past summer, standing with his Bucks teammates in boycotting the team’s first-round playoff game following the Jacob Blake tragedy in Wisconsin days earlier.
The 39-year-old sharpshooter admitted the team was in a “bad headspace” and “not really there mentally” heading into Milwaukee’s Game 5 matchup with eighth-seeded Orlando on August 26th. After seeing the emotion displayed by assistant coach Darvin Ham, the father of two 20-something sons, George Hill and Sterling Brown decided they weren’t going to play against the Magic. Their teammates soon followed suit, standing in solidarity with Hill and Brown by not taking the court.
“I just sat there in my chair with tears running down my face. And I’m looking at my jersey that says Black Lives Matter and I’m just like, ‘What are we doing?’” said Korver, recounting the Bucks’ unprecedented boycott during a recent panel at his alma mater, Creighton University. “There were like 13 minutes on the clock. This was happening in real time. We just kind of sat there and let the clock run out.”
As a white player in a predominantly black league, Korver offers a unique perspective on race. “It’s always interesting for me as a white man in these spaces, like what to do. How do I help as a white man, what do I say as a white man in this space?” asked the 17-year veteran, whose lone All-Star appearance came as a member of the Atlanta Hawks in 2015. “And you know what you do? You stand with the marginalized and, when you can, you amplify their voice. And you listen to their thoughts. And you listen to their ideas.”
Knowing they couldn’t let the moment pass them by, the Bucks followed up their protest with action, jumping on the phone with Wisconsin’s lieutenant governor to discuss a plan for change. “We can’t just not play this game and then go back to our room and play cards or video games,” said Korver, recalling the dilemma the Bucks faced after refusing to take the floor against Orlando. “[Lieutenant governor Mandela Barnes] told us in that moment that after all the protests that had happened in Milwaukee, that the state legislature hadn’t met one time to talk about any kind of change. All the protests, all the conversations, all the pain, they hadn’t met one time.”
The Bucks also spoke with the parents of Jacob Blake, who was shot at seven times by Kenosha Police and ultimately left paralyzed from the waist down. Blake’s three young sons watched the harrowing scene unfold from the backseat of his car. “We’re sitting there listening to his family, his parents, we stood around the phone and cried,” said Korver. “We don’t know exactly what the future holds. We’re not exactly sure what our [plan] is going for, but we’re doing the right thing.” Milwaukee’s boycott was heard loud and far with countless teams—some in other sports including baseball and hockey—opting to sit out as well.
The Bucks’ season may have ended in disappointment—Giannis Antetokounmpo’s injury doomed them in their second-round series against the eventual Eastern Conference Champion Miami Heat—but they certainly deserve credit for giving a voice to the strengthening BLM movement, spreading an important message at a particularly fragile time in our country’s history.