In an empty arena, the seats a ghost’s playground, the floors shiny and robbed of traffic, everything is plain and naked and disturbingly honest. And in that absence is a lesson about what we think we should see.
If you had found yourself wanting to watch the NBA playoffs the night of August 26, live from the league’s quarantine “bubble” in Florida, this was the reality you faced. Emptiness, confusion, and signs of corporate sponsorship.
We’re now a week past the historic NBA players’ strike that upended sports in this country, and even though the basketball playoffs have returned, the action continues to have a much deeper meaning for a country where nothing can truly exist in a bubble, whose crises are pervasive and persistent.
NBA players went on strike out of anguish and solidarity following the shooting of Jacob Blake by Kenosha, Wisconsin, police. But what began in the NBA and spread to almost every American sports league currently at play should be an alarm to a country stuck in its own delusion: Something is deeply and fundamentally wrong with America right now.
The Milwaukee Bucks hadn’t planned on becoming activists. They brought basketball to a halt in a messy but honest way, recognizing the absurdity of playing sports in isolated luxury in the middle of a pandemic, all for a chance at bringing an NBA championship trophy home to a city 40 miles north of where Blake was shot as his children watched. Three of our biggest compounding catastrophes of 2020—widening economic disparity, the relentless spread of COVID-19, and renewed urgency in the fight for Black lives—collided in sports.