(Reuters) – NBA players who boycotted games as part of a protest against racial injustice have agreed to resume the playoffs on Saturday in a deal that includes increased access to voting in the U.S. presidential election, the league and players association (NBPA) said on Friday.
The decision ends a three-day halt to the action as part of a player-led protest that was sparked by the police shooting of Jacob Blake, a Black man in Kenosha, Wisconsin, and led to game cancellations in other sports as well.
As part of the agreement, the NBA and its players will establish a coalition that will focus on access to voting for the Nov. 3 general election, promoting civic engagement, and advocating for meaningful police and criminal justice reform.
“These commitments follow months of close collaboration around designing a safe and healthy environment to restart the NBA season, providing a platform to promote social justice, as well as creating an NBA Foundation focused on economic empowerment in the Black community,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and NBPA Executive Director Michele Roberts said in a joint statement.
“We look forward to the resumption of the playoffs and continuing to work together – in Orlando and in all NBA team markets – to push for meaningful and sustainable change.”
The players’ protest began when the Milwaukee Bucks refused to take the court for Game Five of their first-round playoff series against the Orlando Magic on Wednesday.
Bucks players said they were unable to focus on basketball due to demonstrations and violence in Kenosha, which is about 40 miles (60 km) south of Milwaukee.
After the Bucks’ boycott, the NBA postponed all three games on that day’s schedule as well as three on Thursday.
All 13 teams still on the NBA campus at Disney World in Orlando, a group that includes the defending champion Toronto Raptors and LeBron James’ Los Angeles Lakers, are practicing on Friday.
The return-to-play agreement was announced a day after players, coaches and team governors had a candid discussion regarding the next steps to further collective efforts and actions in support of social justice and racial equality.
As part of the agreement, teams who own and control their stadiums will work with local elections officials to convert their facilities into a voting location to allow for a safe in-person voting option for areas vulnerable to COVID-19.
The novel coronavirus outbreak has pushed a number states to expand mail-in voting.
U.S. President Donald Trump has been railing against mail-in ballots for months as a possible source of fraud, although millions of Americans – including much of the military – have cast absentee ballots by mail for years without such problems.
The NBA also said it will work to include advertising spots in each playoff game dedicated to promoting greater civic engagement in national and local elections and raising awareness around voter access and opportunity.
(Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto; Editing by Ken Ferris)