The Milwaukee Bucks were named Team of the Year in the inaugural Sports Illustrated Awards on Saturday night.
The Bucks were up against three other nominees: the Kansas City Chiefs, Tampa Bay Lightning, and Los Angeles Dodgers. Each of the other nominees won their respective championships, but the Bucks earned the award by not playing at all — they were named Team of the Year for their decision to strike in the middle of the playoffs over the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha.
The action led to the entire NBA and most of Major League Baseball and Major League Soccer to shut down for at least a day.
During the awards show, Bucks forward Khris Middleton recalled the moment.
Video courtesy Sports Illustrated
“Our teammate George Hill was definitely passionate about not playing and he decided himself, he was going to sit out,” Middleton said. “And then we had a team conversation before the game and we just didn’t want him to go through this by himself. We’re a team. If one man can’t play, we felt like we all got to have his back. And that’s what it was all about for us, in this moment and believing in what he stood for and what the team stood for.”
Assistant coach Darvin Ham noted the entire season had taken on the cause of social justice as every team was sequestered in Florida due to the pandemic. Every court had the words “Black Lives Matter” painted on it and players were allowed to wear messages of equality and justice on their jerseys instead of their names.
“It was clear to me what we were doing, once we’d made that final decision,” Ham said. “The whole premise of the bubble, we were told universally, team-by-team, that we would be able to use this opportunity as a platform to bring light to social injustice. It was overwhelming, and mentioned in a group meeting with our team for everyone to be unapologetic about the stance we took, because when you look back on this and the history will say that we were on the right side of history.”
The strike led to conversations with Attorney General Joshua Kaul and Lieutenant Governor Mandela Barnes, a demand for the legislature to take up police reform and the opening of the Bradley Center and Miller Park as early voting locations.
“We were standing up for human rights,” Ham said. “Before we even get to the race part, we’re human beings first, and so humans shouldn’t be treated the way we’ve seen people treated, whether it was George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, so many others. But we stood up for the right thing, we were united. We’re a diverse group, everybody’s on the same page, and this fight just doesn’t stop with what we did in the bubble. We’re going to continue it on.”
Other honorees on the evening include Inspiration of the Year Maya Moore, Player of the Year Mookie Betts, Breakout of the Year Jamal Murray, Best Dressed DeAndre Hopkins and SportsKid of the Year JuJu Watkins. LeBron James was given the Muhammed Ali Legacy Award. The Rays’ comeback against the Dodgers in Game Four of the World Series was named Game of the Year, and Steven Stamkos earned Play of the Year for his goal in Game Three of the Stanley Cup finals.
The ceremony, filmed in Las Vegas last week and streamed on SI’s Facebook page, was hosted by Lindsey Vonn, Cari Champion, Chad Ochocinco and Richard Jefferson. The awards grew out of the magazine’s longtime tradition of naming a Sportsperson of the Year.