MILWAUKEE -- Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said the organization would "continue to fight for better" in the aftermath of a jury's verdict Friday that Kyle Rittenhouse, who fatally shot two men and wounded another during protests in Kenosha, Wisconsin, last year, was acquitted of all charges.
The Bucks performed a wildcat strike during the NBA's playoff bubble in Orlando, Florida, days after a white police officer shot Jacob Blake, a Black man, in August 2020 and one day after Rittenhouse shot three people in the protests over police violence that followed.
The Bucks met as a team ahead of Friday's 96-89 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder, and while Milwaukee forward Khris Middleton didn't want to go into details about the team's conversation, he said they never discussed not taking the court Friday.
"We talked about [the verdict] a little bit as a team," Middleton said after Friday's game. "Speaking for myself, it was definitely disappointing, but at the same time, it really wasn't surprising about the verdict. I watched [the trial] a little bit and was able to keep up with it, but it's something that I think we've all seen over and over again."
Memphis Grizzlies star Ja Morant appeared to share Middleton's opinion, tweeting, "not surprised at all." Toronto Raptors guard Fred VanVleet also said he wasn't surprised but added that he didn't want Friday's verdict to be discouraging either.
"I think that we've got to continue to use the tools that we have at our disposal," VanVleet said. "I think that things are changing and they will continue to change, but we can't lose sight, we can't lose focus, we can't lose hope."
Rittenhouse had been charged with homicide, attempted homicide and reckless endangering after killing Joseph Rosenbaum, 36, and Anthony Huber, 26, and wounding Gaige Grosskreutz, now 28, with an AR-style semi-automatic rifle during a tumultuous night of protests.
Rittenhouse -- who is white, as were those he shot -- pleaded self-defense. He could have gotten life in prison if found guilty on the most serious charge, first-degree intentional homicide, or what some other states define as first-degree murder.
The anonymous jury, whose racial makeup was not disclosed by the court but appeared to be overwhelmingly white, deliberated for close to 3½ days.
"The System Is Broken," Minnesota's Karl-Anthony Towns tweeted.
The System Is Broken.— Karl-Anthony Towns (@KarlTowns) November 19, 2021
In January, the Bucks and Detroit Pistons each knelt on the court for seven seconds after tipoff and then rolled the ball out of bounds, following a decision by a Wisconsin prosecutor to not file charges against Kenosha police officer Rusten Sheskey for shooting Blake. The number of seconds matched the number of times Blake was shot.
"Still trying to push for better in our country," Budenholzer said before Friday's game. "Hoping for improvement. Organizationally, just continue to fight for social justice, for better. But at the same time, have to abide by the jury and the decision and the verdict and continue to fight for better."
Budenholzer's comments pushing for better were echoed by coaches around the league Friday.
Protestors gathered outside of Barclays Center in Brooklyn surrounding Friday's game between the Nets and Orlando Magic.
"Clearly these situations are disappointing, and it's important to not become demoralized and for people to continue to fight for the type of justice and equality that serves all," Nets coach Steve Nash said. "While I think it raises a lot of eyebrows, questions, a lot of pain, we recognize there has to be a path forward.
"It can't be, 'Well, this is just the way it is,' and so I think the movement that we've experienced, one way or the other, is pushing change. Even if you can't see that change on a daily basis or even year by year, over the course of time, without that type of attention and willpower to come together and fight for a brighter future, I think there would be no change, and it's paramount in the seeds of change. So I think these are always opportunities for us to look in the mirror."
Warriors coach Steve Kerr voiced his concerns about gun laws before Golden State's game in Detroit on Friday.
Rittenhouse, who was 17 when he went from his home in Antioch, Illinois, to Kenosha, had also been charged with possession of a dangerous weapon by a person under 18, a misdemeanor that had appeared likely to lead to a conviction. But the judge threw out that charge before jury deliberations after the defense argued that the Wisconsin law did not apply to the long-barreled rifle used by Rittenhouse.
"The fact that we are seemingly OK with a teenager's right to take an AR-15 into an area where there is civil unrest, that's really scary and concerning," Kerr said. "This is where we are with gun laws. This is why we have to have safer gun laws in place to protect ourselves, to protect each other.
"It wasn't a shocking verdict, but one that poses great risk going forward if we continue to go down this path of open carry and states determining that people can carry, even underage people, weapons of war. This is America. Treading down a dangerous path."
National Basketball Social Justice Coalition executive director James Cadogan released a statement saying the organization "remains committed" to protecting the right to peaceful protest and that "any forms of vigilantism in our society are unacceptable."
ESPN's Brian Windhorst and Ohm Youngmisuk and The Associated Press contributed to this report.