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Small-market NBA team makes noise and history

In PR, we talk about the splash move; the hook of a story. What can we do or say to attract the most eyes and ears? Can we create a message that will go viral?

Sometimes what’s in your heart will drive you to do what feels right. Sometimes your actions unintentionally make national, even international news.

I’m talking about the Milwaukee Bucks. It’s the small-market team that held the NBA’s best record heading into the restart “bubble” in Orlando and boasts the 2020 Defensive MVP and reigning league MVP in Giannis Antetokounmpo.

As if being in an isolated area isn’t stressful enough, athletes and coaches in the bubble saw the same video that we did as another Black man, 29-year-old Jacob Blake, was brutally gunned down by police officers, this time in Kenosha, Wisconsin which is about 50 miles south of Milwaukee. The following night a 17-year-old white male toted a semi-automatic rifle in that city and killed people at a peaceful protest. Emotions were already running high, demonstrated by comments from Bucks guard George Hill and Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers, and they peaked as game-time approached Wednesday when rumors surfaced that NBA teams in the bubble may not play.

The Bucks, the Team that Might, began what would become a pause in the NBA and other sports (the Milwaukee Brewers, who were to host the Cincinnati Reds, followed in solidarity) as athletes — humans — tried to take stock of continued racial unrest American neighborhoods while they remained training and playing within a geographic perimeter, isolated from others because of a raging pandemic.

My heart raced until early morning hours and I awoke wondering what would come of these paused season restarts, not because of wins and losses, but because of the immense platforms professional sports hold. Athletes at all levels have more power today than at any time in history. They’re being heard and credit to them, they’re propelling us to difficult conversations. We need more of them. Make no mistake, being an athlete does not prevent Black and Brown individuals from being subject to the same inequities as others in their communities.

The Bucks made a statement and the world watched. Others followed. Ownership and leagues have voiced support for their athletes which helps, but I understand athletes and coaches feel helpless when people who look like them continue to be senselessly killed.

The Bucks decision was not an outlined PR activity. What’s happening now in the NBA is not part of a finely tuned promotions campaign. Everything is fluid and we are watching history unfold. Oh, and we’re in the midst of a pandemic that’s killed nearly 180,000 people, many of them, disproportionately Black.

Nothing is normal in 2020. Throughout the horrors and heartbreak, I continue to hope we come out on the other side better than we were. The Milwaukee Bucks may help impel us today, and I beg them and other teams to continue to push for change. Again I ask, how many lives have to be lost or tears shed? From Doc near tears in a postgame press conference, former NBA player and TNT analyst, Chris Webber who reprised, “If not now, when?” Robert Horry saying he only wants his kids to come home to him …

John Lewis, the recently passed United States congressman who survived beatings during the 1965 civil rights march in Selma, Ala., talked about making good trouble to spur change. I think he’d be proud of the Bucks and those who did just that. It’s on all of us, not just athletes, to move forward.


©Gail Sideman; 2020

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