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After reflection, NBA players believe they can turn ideas to end social injustice into demands if they play on

NBA playoff games were again postponed on Thursday.Kevin C. Cox/Getty

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ORLANDO — When NBA players convened Thursday morning at a ballroom in the Coronado Convention Center, there had been a night of extensive reflection.

Many are tiring of the bubble for several reasons, mostly because they can’t see or don’t feel they are making a social impact.

They felt helpless when they watched video of Jacob Blake being shot in the back seven times by a Kenosha, Wis., police officer. Players questioned whether they should be here, playing basketball, enjoying the sun, fishing and gaming, while others in the Black community are still suffering police brutality and racism.

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The anger from the players’ meeting, after the Bucks decided to sit out their playoff game with the Magic on Wednesday, was evident. Players were frustrated, feeling hopeless and uncertain about their purpose.

The overnight time to reflect allowed the players to understand that great work can still be done in this bubble. While their anger has been geared toward the establishment, the government that has fostered an atrocious relationship between Black people and law enforcement, their disdain was not against the league that has encouraged them to express themselves on social issues.

In the end, the players decided to continue the playoffs, but it was apparent they needed at least a couple of days off to catch their breath. The Celtics will likely open their Eastern Conference semifinal series with the Raptors on Sunday.

There were no games in the NBA bubble on Thursday.Kevin C. Cox/Photographer: Kevin C. Cox/Getty

The games will return, but NBA players want to ensure they are getting the proper support from team owners, who are wealthy and powerful enough to help foster change, or at least spark conversations.

It was understood that changes are going to take time, and it’s going to start with grassroots action, including encouraging people to register to vote and challenging politicians and law enforcement to review policies and tactics in dealing with the Black community and other people of color.

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The players felt they needed to make a statement after last weekend’s events, which included a 17-year-old white male being allowed to walk past police during the Kenosha protests carrying an AR-15-style rifle, and then allegedly killing two people.

Players see this and ask: Why should we continue to provide entertainment for a country that doesn’t consider our lives worthy? How is me playing ball going to prevent the next Jacob Blake from being shot?

Those answers cannot be found in a few days. But what can be done is the suggestions made in the past several weeks by players can turn into demands. There can be meetings arranged by players from every NBA team and the governor of their respective states, such as the Celtics with Governor Charlie Baker, to discuss issues that plague the inner cities.

If these athletes want a seat at the table, then they should have one. And now they have a chance to work with the owners, if so desired, to create a strong agenda for change. One of the questions that dominated the players’ meeting Wednesday night was, “What are we going to do now?”

Some players were angry because the Bucks had no comprehensive plan to back up their boycott. Now is the time for these players to meet with civil rights and community leaders, and even powerful former players such as Magic Johnson, Grant Hill, and Craig Hodges, to determine a plan that will have a lasting impact and make them feel more fulfilled in changing their communities for the better.

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What's the next step for LeBron James and the rest of the NBA stars?Kevin C. Cox/Photographer: Kevin C. Cox/Getty

Right now, they don’t feel fulfilled. They’ve been in the bubble for nearly two months, and while the basketball has been enthralling and played at a high level, Black men and women are still being shot in the streets, COVID-19 is still running rampant, and American society doesn’t appear to have made any improvements since the killing of George Floyd.

There is a lot of work to be done, and the players realize they will face major resistance from the powers that be that would rather have them just dribble a ball, shut up, and sign another sneaker deal.

The impact is lessened if the players don’t reach out to their communities and try to uplift those who may not have the influence they have. Those who aren’t concerned with uplifting these communities are fine with these players making millions of dollars as long as they keep their mouths shut and only relish in their personal success. With this boycott, these players have made sure their voices won’t be muted again.


Gary Washburn is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at gary.washburn@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GwashburnGlobe.