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Bucks take stand that sends shockwaves across sports world – NBA CA



ORLANDO, Fla. — Shortly after 1:30 pm on Wednesday, Giannis Antetokounmpo left the locker room in practice gear and walked toward the court inside the main arena here at the NBA restart. He wore a serious game face, which was unusual because tipoff against the Orlando Magic was still more than two hours away, but it was a hint.

A few minutes later, the reigning MVP made a U-turn, without pregame workout sweat, the first sign that something was up. He was joined by Khris Middleton, and when those All-Stars returned inside the locker room, they didn’t emerge again for five hours, well after they and their teammates shook the NBA and the sports world.

The 2019-20 Milwaukee Bucks may eventually win this year’s championship, assuming it will be played. And if they do, they may not generate the same level of spirited national conversation and rousing applause in some circles than they just did — by refusing to play a No. 8 seed in a playoff game.

MORE: Bucks players make statement after boycott

Stung by the police shooting of Jacob Blake, an unarmed black man in Kenosha, Wisc., just 40 minutes south of Milwaukee, and disturbed by what they felt was a sluggish response from authorities to find justice, the Bucks chose to take a unified stand by taking a unified seat. They knew the historical significance of that; no professional sports team ever refused to play a game because of social injustice, not even in the 1960s. Black players on the Celtics in 1961, including Bill Russell, did skip an exhibition game in Lexington, Ky., after they were refused service at a local restaurant. However, the team did play that night, with seven players.

Russell was a trail blazer during that turbulent time in America. He never refused to play during the Civil Rights era, but he did praise the Bucks through social media: ‘I’m moved by all the NBA players for standing up for what is right.”

The Bucks spoke with Wisconsin government officials during their lengthy locker room meeting (and in particular the state attorney general) in order to get answers and suggestions on how to force immediate change. While that took place, the dominoes pushed by the Bucks fell quickly beyond the locker room. Two other playoff games Wednesday were scrapped and player support both here and beyond Orlando was thermal for the Bucks, Magic, Lakers, Blazers, Thunder and Rockets – all of who were all scheduled to play. They were joined by the player’s union, NBA coaches, team owners, even some of the sponsors with paid ads on the canceled telecasts, and that was just among league circles. This became bigger than the Bucks.

Other sports leagues then fell in line with the ripple: WNBA, Major Lague Baseball, Major League Soccer and tennis, all seeing game cancelations or some manner of player protest.

The engineers of the Bucks’ internal movement were George Hill, who just days earlier expressed second thoughts about coming to Orlando, and Sterling Brown, whose lawsuit against the Milwaukee police department is still ongoing, stemming from an arrest gone foul a few years ago. Those players read from a release, flanked by teammates, and took no questions.

From the statement, Hill said: “When we take the court and represent Milwaukee and Wisconsin, we are expected to play at a high level, give maximum effort and hold each other accountable. We hold ourselves to that standard, and in this moment, we are demanding the same from our lawmakers and law enforcement. We are calling for justice for Jacob Blake and demand the officers be held accountable. For this to occur, it is imperative for the Wisconsin State Legislature to reconvene after months of inaction and take up meaningful measures to address issues of police accountability, brutality and criminal justice reform.”

The Bucks wanted to rattle society and poke those holding high office in Kenosha and crank the decibel level on social justice and this was certainly accomplished. And now, as in all matters of protest, there is a necessary transition and a bold question that asks: What next?

MORE: NBA teams, NBPA & Coaches association support players protest

The Bucks said they weren’t emotionally ready to play. Brown read, from the statement: “Despite the overwhelming plea for change, there has been no action, so our focus today cannot be on basketball.”

If the NBA players need action from Kenosha in order to refocus on basketball, and since action is hardly moments away, does this and should this spell the end of the NBA playoffs? How can players, taking them at their word, suddenly shift gears and lace up a day or two from now? What exactly will change dramatically in Kenosha and Minneapolis and from coast to coast in the interim?

The NBA termed what happened Wednesday as a “postponement,” which by definition is a delay. This implies the league expects the playoffs to continue, which would put it at odds with any players who’d rather go home. A collection of heavyweights and union reps, LeBron James and Chris Paul among them, met through the night Wednesday. An emergency session of the Board of Governors is set for Thursday at 11 am, which promises to be a defining moment to see who wants and gets what, since the players are bringing financial and political demands. It’s all very fluid. At stake: Millions of TV revenue and the conclusion of the 2020 season, if the players and league are still putting any high value on that.

The league would be caught in friendly fire from a business standpoint. Players and owners are rarely at odds in the NBA, the most progressive sports league in America, and in the case of social justice, the bond between them is tight. Everyone’s on the same page, same book, same message. The league openly encouraged players and coaches to speak up on political and social issues well before 2020, and once canceled an All-Star Game in Charlotte in protest of a controversial North Carolina bathroom bill aimed at denying gay and transgender citizens.

Also, the NBA threw its weight behind social justice in Orlando by allowing players to wear messages on their jerseys and painting Black Lives Matter on the court and relaxing the rule requiring players to stand for the anthem. No pro sports league can match this awareness level. But in the days following the Kenosha shooting, some players wondered if this was loud enough, and that they felt stifled in Orlando, where they’re unable to leave for health reasons until they’re eliminated from the playoffs.

Those players wanted to take a more hands-on approach to social justice. That’s tricky because a pandemic still rages, limiting movement beyond their homes even if this restart never happened. Anyway, being in Orlando allows them a nightly and massive platform they wouldn’t enjoy on the outside except for LeBron and a handful of other stars with high appeal.

MORE: Kenny Smith exits TNT set in solidarity with NBA players

Skipping a basketball game, in and of itself, will not stop police shootings, just as many other like-minded events in 2020 failed to do so; otherwise, Kenosha wouldn’t have happened.

That said, in the fight for social justice, every action and step does matter if it rousts big business and influential people and voters and political decision-makers. The Bucks evidently believe this is that step, that in any marathon to produce change, they just covered a measurable amount of ground with a bandwagon they hope is filling up.

That’s a wish that remains to be realized. The segment of society that supported an overhaul in law enforcement before the Bucks chose not to play are totally behind them. There’s also another segment of society that doesn’t understand what the fuss is all about or the purpose of what the Bucks just did.

Well, the team that just scored big points in Orlando will let America sort that out. Wearing black T-shirts adorned with quotations and messages and statements, all the Bucks players, flanked by coaches and support staff, refused to shut up and dribble. Hill even apologized for the long locker room delay, saying: “We thought it was best for us as a team to brainstorm a little bit, educate ourselves and not rush into having raw emotions.”

And now?

“We’ll go back to educating ourselves and see what’s going on.”

Shaun Powell has covered the NBA for more than 25 years. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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Blue Jays sit 1 win away from clinching playoff berth after thumping Yankees –



The Toronto Blue Jays showed Wednesday night why they could be a dangerous wild-card team in the playoffs.

Danny Jansen hit two solo homers as the Blue Jays used a 16-hit attack and eight-run sixth inning to bulldoze the New York Yankees 14-1 at Sahlen Field. Jansen had four hits and three runs to help the Blue Jays move closer to nailing down a playoff berth.

“Putting ourselves in this spot is a great feeling,” Jansen said. “But we’ve still got work to do.”

Toronto (29-27) trimmed its magic number to one with the victory and can secure its first post-season spot since 2016 with a win in Thursday’s series finale.

Cavan Biggio scored three times, Randal Grichuk added a pair of runs and Vladimir Guerrero Jr., had three RBIs. Starter Robbie Ray was effective over four-plus innings and A.J. Cole threw a scoreless fifth inning for the win.

Under Major League Baseball’s expanded playoff structure, 16 teams will reach the post-season. Division winners will be seeded No. 1 through No. 3 in each league, second-place teams will be seeded fourth through sixth, and two third-place wild-card teams will get the seventh and eighth seeds.

The Los Angeles Angels, currently ninth in the AL, kept their faint playoff hopes alive earlier Wednesday with a 5-2 win over the San Diego Padres.

Facing veteran right-hander Masahiro Tanaka (3-3), the Blue Jays took advantage of a couple breaks to put up two quick runs in the first inning.

With Biggio on after a leadoff walk, Teoscar Hernandez hit a double-play ball up the middle that took an unexpected high bounce near the lip of the grass and rolled into the outfield.

Guerrero stroked a single that scored Biggio with the game’s first run. Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez tried to pick the young slugger off first base but a wide throw went down the right-field line as Hernandez trotted home.

Ray earns timely outs

Ray breezed through the first inning but issued two walks in the second. Gio Urshela singled to load the bases and a passed ball allowed Luke Voit to score the Yankees’ lone run.

New York loaded the bases with none out in the fifth inning. But Cole (3-0) held off the heart of the Yankees’ order by fanning Giancarlo Stanton and getting Voit — who leads the majors in homers — on an infield fly and then Gleyber Torres on a flyout.

“That was really the game,” Jansen said. “Saving that was huge for us. Bases loaded, no outs, coming in and getting that. There’s a lot of momentum swing right there.”

Toronto followed New York’s lead by putting its first three batters on base in the sixth. The Blue Jays took full advantage by batting around with a two-run single by Lourdes Gurriel Jr., and Biggio’s two-run double serving as highlight blows.

The victory came a day after New York dumped Toronto 12-1.

“Today was a big game after yesterday,” said Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo. “That’s what they’ve done all year — come back from top losses. It was great to see, facing another good pitcher like Tanaka, coming back tonight and scoring all those runs. A big win for us.”

New York (32-24) had four hits and a season-high four errors. The Yankees have a magic number of one to secure a second-place finish in the East Division.

Ray, who was pulled after the first two batters reached in the fifth, allowed three hits, four walks and had five strikeouts. Tanaka gave up three earned runs, eight hits and three walks while striking out five.

Jansen, who went deep off Tanaka in the fourth, added another shot in the eighth off Yankees catcher Erik Kratz, giving the Toronto backstop six homers on the season.

Toronto was a wild-card entry when it last reached the post-season four years ago. The Blue Jays went on to reach the AL Championship Series for the second straight year.

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Jays win big, magic number is 1 – Bluebird Banter



Yankees 1 Blue Jays 14

Our magic number is now 1. A win tomorrow (or in any of our last four games) would put us into the playoffs.

It is nice when the other team forgets how to play baseball. The Yankees made 4 official errors and a few unofficial ones. They were just playing bad baseball all night.

We got a good start from Bob Rae (as much as it hurts the old man in me to say that 4+ innings is a good start). Through four innings he allowed just 2 hits and 3 walks with 5 strikeouts. There was an unearned run against him, scoring on a passed ball (he and Jansen got crossed up, Ray threw a fastball, Jansen thought something bendy was coming). He went to full counts too much, but he kept the Yankees off the bases.

Ray allowed a walk and a single to start off the fifth and that was it. A.J. Cole came in a gave up a walk to load the bases. Looking at the final score, it doesn’t seem like there should have been a big moment of the game on the pitching side, but this was a big moment. We were up 5-1 with Giancarlo Stanton, Luke Viot and Gleyber Torres coming up. But Cole got a strikeout, popout and fly out. It was nice to see because Cole has had a rough time of it lately.

Ross Stripling pitched the last four inning, giving up just 1 hit with 1 strikeout. He gets a save on a game we won by 13.

We scored 2 in the first, 1 in the third, 2 in the fourth, 8 in the sixth and 1 in the eighth. Our hitters:

  • Cavan Biggio was 2 for 5 with a walk, double and 2 RBI.
  • Bo Bichette was 2 for 4, with 2 walks, double, 2 RBI (he had 3 walks on the season before tonight).
  • Teoscar Hernandez 1 or 4.
  • Randal Grichuk 1 for 4, 1 walk, 1 RBI.
  • Vladimir Guerrero was 2 for 5, double, 3 RBI. He had an interesting night. He misjudged a popup in the first inning. Thankfully it didn’t cost us a run. He drew a pick off throw from Gary Sanchez, by taking a few steps towards second on a strike and Sanchez threw wide of first, getting us a free run. Then an crushed RBI double in third, an RBI ground out. And he made a very nice play, again a going a long way off first to get a ball, but Stripling got to the bag at first in plenty of time, and Vlad made a nice throw hitting the moving target.
  • Lourdes Gurriel was 3 for 5 with an RBI.
  • Travis Shaw was 1 for 5 with an RBI.
  • Joe Panik only managed a walk.
  • Danny Jansen hit 2 home runs on a 4 for 4 night, with 3 RBI. Yes, one of the home runs was off Yankees’ catcher Erik Kratz (but it still counts).

Jays of the Day: Cole (.119 WPA), Vlad (.190) and Jansen (.107).

No Suckage Jays. Shaw had the low mark at -.063.

Tomorrow is our last game of this four game series against the Yankees and then we have a weekend series against the Orioles to end the season.

We had 847 comments in the GameThread. I led us to victory (and I didn’t even have a beer tonight). But I did have a nice day. I took a drive out in the country and saw the changing of the colours, while avoiding the news for a day. I’d say it was a mental health day, but there really is no mental health left.

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Lightning’s Stamkos secures place in Cup lore with Game 3 goal vs. Stars –



EDMONTON — Seven seconds.

That’s how much time the puck spent on Steven Stamkos’s stick blade on this night, and perhaps that’s all it will spend there throughout the entirety of this Tampa Bay Lightning playoff run.

That’s all the hard-luck captain needed to secure his place in Stanley Cup lore. Seven freaking seconds.

Somehow, after spending 60 days as a practice-only player inside the NHL bubble and going 210 days between games, Stamkos scored the biggest goal of a career overflowing with them.

He was in full stride down the right boards when Victor Hedman hit him in the neutral zone. He blew past Esa Lindell, who defended the play poorly and managed to settle a bouncing puck in time to tuck it up under the crossbar behind Anton Khudobin.

The Lightning bench exploded. Jon Cooper said the reaction was “just a little bit louder” than any of the others during a playoff run that has included five overtime goals. The coach saw it as a sign his team wouldn’t be denied, and they weren’t while grabbing a 2-1 series lead over the Dallas Stars with a 5-2 victory Wednesday.

“It was pretty damn cool,” said Cooper.

Stamkos called it a dream come true.

Forget the unfortunate timing of the injuries that have cost him big playoff games and a chance at playing for Team Canada at the Olympics in recent years. Just being trapped inside the bubble with no guarantee of playing would be agony for someone who has given as much to the Lightning as Stamkos.

And then to get in for Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final, and only be able to play five shifts and score on one of them after not playing for seven months?

Hollywood might not accept that script.

“At this time of the year, you want to do anything you can to help your team win,” said Stamkos. “I’ve watched these guys be so committed to what our end goal is, and to be part of it tonight, it was a dream come true and I’m so proud of these guys. And to be able to share that moment with them and just even be on the bench and watch how well we played tonight, I have told these guys before: It’s inspiring.

“It was great to be part of.”

Quickly, the backstory: Stamkos underwent core muscle surgery on March 2 and was supposed to be recovered in time for the second round of a normal playoffs. Then we had the COVID-19 pause, he had some kind of setback while preparing for the NHL’s return to play and the Lightning have gone on a run without him.

But he’s remained a large figure in the shadows.

You could see him dousing Brayden Point with water after he scored a quintuple overtime goal against the Columbus Blue Jackets in Round 1 and he was summoned to the ice to help the Lightning accept the Prince of Wales Trophy after they eliminated the New York Islanders.

Everything he had to endure in order to even play for two minutes 41 seconds of Wednesday’s game has happened behind the walls. And based on the fact he sat on the bench while not taking a shift for the final 46 minutes here suggests we might not see him in uniform again for the rest of this series.

So that goal? That was something.

“He’s worked extremely hard to get back to a spot where he could play,” said Brayden Point. “Just seeing him day in and day out — the positivity that he brings, and the leadership that he brings. It’s nice to see him work that hard to get back into the lineup. And then to score one? It’s pretty inspirational for everyone.”

Added Victor Hedman: “This is how much he means to us as a teammate and as a leader and as a friend. We were just super happy for him.”

Stamkos played six games against the Chicago Blackhawks in the 2015 Final and didn’t manage to score. In this situation, the Lightning put him on the fourth line alongside Cedric Paquette (zero goals this playoffs) and Pat Maroon (one goal this playoffs) and he produced one in limited minutes before his injury forced him to become a spectator.

What happens next will determine what this means historically.

But what it meant to Stamkos and the Lightning won’t change no matter what. He’s only going to get so many chances like this one.

“It was amazing to be a part of a huge win for us,” he said. “I was just really happy to obviously contribute in a game that I didn’t play too much.”

This was a kid who used to go to shooting school twice per week and fire 500 pucks per session. That’s a skill that endured the injuries, the layoff, everything.

It made this moment possible.

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