On Tuesday, two days after the shooting of Jacob Blake by police in Kenosha, Wis., Cheryl Reeve was asked if she was conflicted about holding games in Florida while larger issues raged around the country.
“I know it’s crossed all our minds,” the Lynx coach and general manager said. “We’re going, ‘What are we doing here?’ ”
Reeve woke up Wednesday thinking her team might not be playing that night even though there was a game against Los Angeles on the schedule. It turns out she was right — and the Lynx were hardly alone.
Reeve’s inkling grew as she heard NBA teams were considering not playing in protest of Blake’s shooting — and that if such a thing happened, the WNBA was likely to follow suit. That’s exactly what happened Wednesday in a historic display of athletes making their voices heard and actions felt.
The Milwaukee Bucks started the chain when they went on strike and decided not to take the floor for their afternoon playoff game against Orlando. By the end of the night, 14 games across four U.S. leagues were postponed — all three apiece in the NBA and WNBA, three in MLB and five in MLS.
“Now maybe white owners that have a hard time with a player kneeling, maybe if you don’t have us at all, maybe if it really hits you where it hurts you will listen,” Reeve said. “But isn’t that sad? That might be the only way you make progress is if the billionaires don’t make their billions off of Black athletes? These are all things that are on our minds. It’s heavy. It’s really heavy. I don’t know how we could have played a game.”
The Lynx game was scheduled to start at 7 p.m. Central time in the WNBA’s bubble at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., but shortly after 6 p.m. — right around the planned tipoff of the first scheduled league game of the night between Washington and Atlanta — players from multiple teams presented a unified message shown live on ESPN2 that none of the three WNBA games would be played Wednesday.
Players from the six teams scheduled to play linked arms while wearing T-shirts that spelled out Blake’s name. Nneka Ogwumike of the Sparks, who is the president of the WNBA players union, wore a T-shirt that read “Stop killing Black people” and said the decision not to play was reached by a majority of players as a group.
“What was most important was the solidarity, the unity, the collectiveness,” Ogwumike said.
WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert said of the players’ decision: “We absolutely support them.”
Lynx players were not made available to the media after the postponement, but several expressed support on social media. Tweeted guard Lexie Brown: “My heart is heavy. but i find comfort in the fact that we stood up for something we believe in TOGETHER.”
“It’s sickening to see and to hear about another person this is happening to,” Lynx forward Napheesa Collier said Tuesday when asked about Blake, who was shot seven times from behind. “It’s the reason we’ve dedicated our season to injustice like this.”
The WNBA and the Lynx specifically have been front-and-center at the intersection of sports and social justice for years.
In 2016, after the shooting death of Philando Castile, the Lynx donned Black Lives Matter T-shirts before a home game. And in 2019, star Maya Moore stepped away from the game to dedicate herself to social justice issues — including successfully working to overturn the conviction of Jonathan Irons earlier this year.
On Wednesday, Reeve was candid after talking with Lynx players about their mind-sets.
“Honestly, the only concern they have is for their family members and the daily walk out the front door. I told the team, I have a 5-year-old son, and I don’t have to have the same conversations with him. And that makes me ill,” Reeve said, pausing for several seconds as she wiped away tears. “And for Odyssey [Sims’] son Jaiden. I want them to grow up in a different world. And I want them to be a part of the change.”