(Reuters) - The National Basketball Association (NBA) postponed all three playoff games on Wednesday after the Milwaukee Bucks boycotted Game 5 of their series against the Orlando Magic to protest racial injustice, triggering similar moves across other sports.
The action by the Wisconsin-based team follows the police shooting of Jacob Blake, a Black man, in the city of Kenosha, also in Wisconsin, on Sunday.
Major League Baseball, Major League Soccer and the Women’s NBA also postponed games, while two-times tennis Grand Slam champion Naomi Osaka joined the protests by pulling out of a tournament after reaching the semi-finals.
The Bucks players said in a statement they were unable to focus on basketball due to the events in Kenosha.
“Over the last few days in our home state of Wisconsin we have seen the horrendous video of Jacob Blake being shot in the back seven times by a police officer in Kenosha and the additional shooting of protesters,” they said.
“Despite the overwhelming plea for change there has been no action so our focus today cannot be on basketball.”
In addition to the Bucks-Magic game, the NBA said the Houston Rockets-Oklahoma City Thunder and Los Angeles Lakers-Portland Trail Blazers games would be rescheduled.
“WE DEMAND CHANGE. SICK OF IT,” tweeted LeBron James, the four-times NBA Most Valuable Player.
Former U.S. President Barack Obama praised the Bucks in a Twitter post that included a video clip of an emotional Los Angeles Clippers head coach Doc Rivers talking about Blake.
“I commend the players on the @Bucks for standing up for what they believe in, coaches like @DocRivers, and the @NBA and @WNBA for setting an example. It’s going to take all our institutions to stand up for our values,” wrote Obama.
‘SHINE A LIGHT’
Major League Baseball postponed games in Milwaukee, San Diego and San Francisco scheduled for Wednesday while Major League Soccer decided to postpone the five remaining games on its schedule.
“Given the pain in the communities of Wisconsin and beyond following the shooting of Jacob Blake, we respect the decisions of a number of players not to play tonight,” MLB said in a statement.
The WNBA also postponed three games scheduled for Wednesday. Players on the reigning WNBA champion Washington Mystics wore T-shirts that depicted seven bloody bullet holes on their backs.
World number 10 tennis player Osaka withdrew from a U.S. Open tune-up tournament after she reached the semi-finals.
“As a Black woman I feel as though there are much more important matters at hand that need immediate attention, rather than watching me play tennis,” Osaka said.
Kenosha has been rocked by civil unrest and violence since Sunday, when police shot Blake, 29, in the back at close range in an incident captured on video. Blake is paralyzed and is being treated for his injuries.
A 17-year-old identified as Kyle Rittenhouse was arrested and charged with homicide on Wednesday in connection with gunfire that killed two people and wounded a third during a third night of protests on Tuesday.
The Magic, who trail 3-1 in the best-of-seven, first-round series, left the court when it was clear the Bucks were not going to play. Beyonce’s song “Freedom” rang out in the empty Orlando arena as the clock counting down to the start of the game ran out.
The Bucks ownership said they were not aware ahead of time of what the players were planning but supported them.
“The only way to bring about change is to shine a light on racial injustices that are happening in front of us,” co-owners Marc Lasry, Wes Edens and Jamie Dinan said in a statement.
Athletes from around the world have united behind anti-racism protests sparked by the death of George Floyd, a Black man in police custody in Minneapolis in May.
Since the NBA restarted its COVID-19 hit season in a bubble-like campus at Disney World in Florida, courts have the words “Black Lives Matter” painted on them and many players are wearing jerseys with social justice slogans.
Additional reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto, Editing by Aurora Ellis, Rosalba O’Brien, Richard Pullin and Peter Rutherford
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