Atlanta Dream, WNBA boycott games in response to the police shooting of Jacob Blake

The Dream, Mystics, Lynx, Sparks, Sun, and Mercury collectively decided not to play Wednesday night.

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It took more than an hour of discussion, but in the end, there was unity.

The Atlanta Dream and the Washington Mystics arrived at Feld Entertainment Center first, because they had the first game of the night at 7 pm. Within minutes, the two teams were on the court to discuss if they wanted to play Wednesday night after the Milwaukee Bucks chose to boycott their game in the wake of Jacob Blake’s shooting by Kenosha police.

When the Minnesota Lynx and the Los Angeles Sparks arrived, they joined the discussion as well. It was a passionate, emotional conversation. In the end, they made a collective, unified decision: No games will be played Wednesday night.

Elizabeth Williams, Atlanta Dream center, and WNBPA executive committee member read the league’s statement.

“After speaking with representatives from teams playing tonight as well as our WNBPA leadership, the consensus is to not play in tonight’s slate of games and to kneel, lock arms and raise fists during the national anthem,” Williams said. “We stand in solidarity with our brothers in the NBA and will continue this conversation with our brothers and sisters across all leagues and look to take collective action.”

Dream coach Nicki Collen told the media she wasn’t sure if there was a perfect decision for the teams to make that would suit everyone’s needs, but she was proud of their commitment to making a unified decision.

“There was a lot of back and forth tonight, but I think that the players decided that they had heavy hearts and they wanted to take a stand and continue the conversation about police brutality,” Collen said. “There was probably no perfect answer for tonight. Our players, I’m proud that they stand in solidarity as a league and the teams met and spoke, the four teams that were set to play the earlier games tonight kind of came to the conclusion that they were not going to play.”

At 7 pm on ESPN2, in front of a national audience, all four teams and their staffs came together to kneel in silence. Mystics player Tianna Hawkins’ young son, Emanuel, was front and center — a powerful image of a young Black boy at the center of a moment of silence for the shooting of a young Black man.

The emotion of the moment was written on the faces of the players, coaches, and team staffers. After kneeling in silence with their arms linked, everyone on the court offered hugs and words of encouragement to their colleagues. The mood was somber and reflective of the pain felt by everyone on the court and across the country.

“It’s pretty powerful,” Collen said. “I think there were people that felt this very personally and I think there were people that feel like they’re allies in this, but either way, I’ve always said we’re not the NBA. We’re kinda small but we’re mighty. Our support staffs are small. We all do more with less in this league and when we do something, we have to do it together. I think it was another moment for not just the players but the support staffs to link arms and to say we’re speaking for each other. Pretty powerful.

“I think there were a lot of players with heavy hearts tonight. There were players that were willing to play and there were players that probably weren’t, but I think they did what was best for the majority.”

Collen has been vocal about her desire to support her players in all social justice efforts this season. The Dream has been at the center of multiple discussions around the Black Lives Matter movement this season as co-owner Kelly Loeffler made it clear she did not support the movement.

Already this season, the Atlanta players have released a statement in response to Loeffler that made clear their unequivocal support of the Black Lives Matter movement. Williams was at the forefront of a league-wide movement to endorse Loeffler’s Democrat challenger in her Senate race, Rev. Raphael Warnock.

Collen’s comments Wednesday night further solidified her intent to support her players in any decisions they make.

“This is my opportunity to be more of a servant or a servant leader than it is to speak for them,” Collen said. “These are strong, adult women that have voices of their own. Certainly, my job as a coach is to prepare them to play basketball, but when it comes to decisions about their lives and what matters to them, this is my opportunity to stand alongside them and in some ways to support them from behind.

“Even tonight, I had told Elizabeth before all this happened that I may have opinions, but this is not the time to share mine and that it was a time for them to have a collective voice and for me to support that voice. I think there’s a time to lead and a time to serve, and I think a good leader does both.”

The teams’ decision not to play Wednesday is, like so many moments this year, wholly unprecedented. It was also extraordinarily powerful.

The WNBA is 80 percent, Black women. They used their platform and their voices to take a stand and make a statement about police brutality and the appalling realities of being Black or a person of color in America.

Wednesday night, the WNBA made it clear: Black lives matter, and their lives matter.