Giannis Antetokounmpo took time after the Bucks avanced to the second round of the NBA playoffs to explain how the team’s midweek walkout unfolded.
The Bucks refused to play the Magic on Wednesday following the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wis. The move had a cascading effect on the NBA and professional sports in the United States. Amid protests against police brutality and racial inequality, all NBA games scheduled for Wednesday, Thursday and Friday were postponed. There were also strikes in the WNBA, MLB, the NHL, MLS and the Western & Southern Open tennis tournament.
Asked how the decision came about, the league’s reigning MVP told reporters: “I saw George [Hill] and Sterling [Brown]. George decided not to play the game, and he didn’t put pressure to [any] of his teammates. Not me. Not the coach.
“Sterling decided to do the same thing. He came in the locker room to talk to us, and I decided as a leader, as Giannis, that’s who I am, I was like, ‘I’m not playing this game.’ I didn’t want to play this game.
“I told coach (Mike Budenholzer) I’m not playing this game. I can’t leave my teammates behind. They felt a type of way about all the frustration that was going on, it wasn’t in the right space to play the game.
“A hundred percent fully support them. Win or lose, I support them. Going out there or not going out there, staying in the locker room, I support them. So, we decided as a team not to go out there, and that’s how it happened.”
Antetokounmpo and the Bucks returned to action Saturday, defeating the Magic 118-104 in Game 5 to seal a 4-1 series victory in the Orlando bubble. Antetokounmpo posted 28 points and 17 rebounds for Milwaukee, which will next meet the Heat at Walt Disney World Resort.
“We made a powerful move — decided not to play, decided to bring awareness,” Antetokounmpo told ESPN postgame. “Just seeing other athletes around the world, other leagues doing the same thing. It says a lot about us, it says a lot about our league that gives us a platform to speak up.”