The Boston Celtics walked off the court as a team before their scheduled game with the Miami Heat, and both teams released a joint statement before returning to tip off Wednesday night.
The actions came hours after rioters stormed the Capitol and disrupted a Congressional vote to certify the U.S. presidential election. One day earlier, news broke that police officers involved in the shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wis., would not be charged.
“2021 is a new year, but some things have not changed,” the joint statement said. “We play tonight’s game with a heavy heart after yesterday’s decision in Kenosha, and knowing that protesters in our nation’s capital are treated differently by political leaders depending on what side of certain issues they are on. The drastic difference between the way protesters this past spring and summer were treated and the encouragement given to today’s protesters who acted illegally just shows how much work we have to do.
“We have decided to play tonight’s game to try to bring joy into people’s lives. But we must not forget the injustices in today’s society, and we will continue to use our voices and our platform to highlight these issues and do everything we can to work for a more equal and just America.”
National Basketball Players Association executive director Michele Roberts told ESPN that there hadn’t been any discussions with the NBA about postponing any of the 11 games scheduled for Wednesday. However, Roberts expressed disappointment and frustration about the ongoing double-standard regarding race in the country.
“Every single player that contacted me — or that I contacted — saw the same connection to the Blake shooting being justified,” Roberts told ESPN. “We were watching these people essentially committing treason at the Capitol and I have yet to hear about a single shot being fired.
“On a day like this, it’s the first thing that comes to mind. And all I can say is that I’m grateful knowing that hopefully nobody who looks like me is going to Capitol Hill to respond to this, because if they do, you’ll see a different response by law enforcement. You know it — and I know it,” Roberts said.
It was a sentiment echoed by Philadelphia 76ers coach Doc Rivers.
“It basically proves the point about a privileged life in a lot of ways,” Rivers said. “I’ll say it because I don’t think a lot of people want to, could you imagine today if those were all Black people storming the Capitol and what would’ve happened? … No police dogs turned on people, no billy clubs hitting people, people peacefully being escorted out of the Capitol. So it shows that you can disperse a crowd peacefully, I guess, would be the one thing.”
Not long after, play came to a halt moments after the Detroit Pistons tipped off against the host Milwaukee Bucks. All 10 players on the court stopped and took a knee after the opening tip.
Many other athletes reacted to the day’s events on social media.
“An absolute disgrace what’s happening at the US Capitol right now,” Cleveland Cavaliers forward Kevin Love wrote on Twitter. “And a blatant example of inequity in how law enforcement chooses to deal with those involved.”
The District of Columbia issued a curfew of 6 p.m. local time after the riots. The scheduled game between UMass and host George Washington was postponed after a discussion by both teams’ head coaches.