First of all, it's not a boycott. It's a strike. And a wildcat strike to boot.
When the players on the Milwaukee Bucks chose not to play in the NBA playoffs -- joined by their baseball counterparts, the Brewers, with other teams quickly following -- they became part of a tradition that reaches back to Tommie Smith and John Carlos, to Muhammad Ali, to Carlos Delgado, all the way to the present, to Maya Moore and Colin Kaepernick.
Professional athletes are workers.
They may be wealthy -- though all are not as wealthy as the top earners -- but their working life is perilously short, and throughout history, has been awash in exploitation. If some earn huge salaries today, that's because so many people are profiting from their labour.
Strike vs boycott
So why is this action a strike and not a boycott?
If NBA fans refused to buy tickets to games, or watch the games on TV, that would be a boycott.
If fans refused to buy the products advertised during the broadcast of NBA games, that would be a boycott.
When workers refuse to work, that is a strike.
And when they do so without the direction of their union, when they are not "in a legal strike position," as it is called, that, my friends, is a wildcat strike.
And if we all did this -- if we joined them -- that would be a general strike.
Why it matters
I've been surprised to see some progressive people shrug off the NBA strike as mere display. It is anything but.
When people who command media attention are vocal about justice, it is noticed. That is powerful.
When those same people withhold their labour -- when they "down tools" and walk off the job -- it is exponentially more powerful.
Everyone is rocked by this action: the NBA, their sponsors, the media, the fans, even people who never watch basketball. It is news. It draws the focus of the entire country -- and a huge portion of the entire world -- to why this action was taken.
Professional and college athletes' support of the Black Lives Matter movement has been, continues to be, important. Athletes have spoken out, they have worn the t-shirts, they have knelt or been absent during the national anthem. All this matters.
But with this step -- a strike -- they put their bodies on the line.
As the shooting of Jacob Blake stunned us, left our hearts sore and broken, the very fact of this strike has made my heart soar with hope.
For important context, you'll want to read Dave Zirin's most recent column: The Milwaukee Bucks and Brewers Strike for Racial Justice.
This op-ed by Kurt Streeter in the New York Times is also good: With Walkouts, a New High Bar for Protests in Sports Is Set.
Zirin, speaking with Democracy Now, calls the players' protest "a challenge to the labor movement as a whole". He writes:
They are posing the question that all great strikes pose—to political people who hate sports and sports fans who hate politics, and to white fans who love them on the court but are oblivious to Black lives when the final whistle is blown—“Which side are you on?”