After a late-night candlelit vigil, a players-only meeting and hours of dialogue via text messages, WNBA players decided to resume the season Friday and put an end to a historic two-day postponement that wiped out games Wednesday and Thursday.
The Storm (12-3) was scheduled to play Las Vegas (11-3) Thursday night in Bradenton, Florida, but that game and two others have been called off for now.
The league’s work stoppage was spurred by Sunday’s police shooting of Jacob Blake, a 29-year-old Black man who was shot seven times in the back with his children nearby in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
The WNBA followed the NBA and teams in the MLB and MLS, which paused games in protest on Wednesday.
“It is important to note that this is not a strike,” said WNBA players’ union president Nneka Ogwumike on ESPN. “This is not a boycott. This is affirmatively, a day of reflection. A day of informed action and mobilization.”
During televised interviews on ESPN, Ogwumike and members of the Women’s National Basketball Players Association’s executive committee, including Storm guard Sue Bird, talked about the unprecedented events that led to a 48-hour halt of games.
“(Wednesday) night I was one of the teams that was scheduled to play,” said Ogwumike, the Los Angeles Sparks star. “We entered the arena when (Washington) and Atlanta were having those discussions. As you can imagine, it was such an intense time and there was a lot of emotion around not just playing, but also the occurrences of the world outside of the bubble right now and how that affects players. We came to the consensus as teams were arriving that we would take these nights off.”
The WNBA held a 30-minute vigil Wednesday night at the IMG Academy Hotel for Blake, which was attended by players, coaches, staff members and league officials.
“We needed a pause,” WNBPA vice president Layshia Clarendon said. “We needed a break. We needed a moment of healing and reflection.”
Led by Ogwumike, the WNBPA executive committee aligned outspoken players, including Washington Mystics guard Ariel Atkins who spearheaded Wednesday’s postponement, with those who wanted to continue the season.
“I feel like as a group we decided last night that we want to play,” Ogwumike said. “There are games scheduled (Friday), and that’s what we’re ready to do.
“There are things that happen that allow us to take a moment. That’s fair. We can take a moment. And in that moment we came together and we decided we need time for ourselves to come back, regroup and continue to amplify our voices and be there for our communities and demand change from the leaders that our representing us right now.”
Presumably, the WNBA will make up the seven missed games after the regular season ends Sept. 12.
Ogwumike credited Bird, the WNBPA vice president, for helping players to realize they can make a significant impact on social-justice causes while playing basketball.
The WNBA has dedicated this season to the Black Lives Matter movement and the Say Her Name campaign, which highlights Black and brown women killed by police including Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old Black emergency medical technician who was shot eight times by Louisville police on March 13.
“Effecting change comes in a lot of forms,” Bird said. “As important as it is to be in the streets, to be out protesting, to keeping that energy up, we got to take that energy to the polls because people like (Kentucky attorney general) Daniel Cameron are voted into their position. People like the DA and AG in Wisconsin are voted in their positions.
“So if you want to create that change and you want people and officials in office that represent your values, you have to go out and vote. You have to take your pain, you have to take your frustration, you have to take that energy and you got to take it to the polls. It’s that simple for us.”
On Thursday morning, every WNBA player inside the bubble gathered for a powerful photo-op and linked arms in a show of unity.
“There’s time in history and there’s time when you have your platform where standing in solidarity works,” Ogwumike said. “And for us as women, that looks very different. We wanted to stand with our brethren yesterday and we did.
“But we came here for a reason and that was to amplify our voices and the only way that happens is if we’re out here. That’s what we’re here to do. … We’re going to keep doing it on the court and off the court.”