USA TODAY Sports’ Nancy Armour breaks down how the Bucks have dealt with police brutality as an organization in the past.
Back in 1992, Craig Hodges had a Colin Kaepernick-esque conclusion to his NBA career. After winning two championships with the Chicago Bulls and claiming the 3-point contest title three consecutive years, Hodges found himself out of the league, playing his final game at age 31.
Much like Kaepernick, a capable backup quarterback who hasn’t played since the 2016 season when he began kneeling during the national anthem to protest social injustice, Hodges believes he was scorned by the league’s teams for his activism. After he was cut by the Bulls in 1992, he did not receive an offer from any of the other teams, prompting him to later file a lawsuit against the NBA.
In his activism efforts, Hodges most notably wanted to protest Game 1 of the 1991 NBA Finals between the Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers – staged a few months after Rodney King was brutally beaten by Los Angeles police officers. He went to discuss it with teammate Michael Jordan and Lakers star Magic Johnson, the two biggest stars in the league at that time.
“I knew the answer before I went to them,” Hodges told CBS Sports of talking to Johnson and Jordan. “What’s funny to me, is how quick they dismissed it. Both conversations lasted less than two minutes. Magic was coming on the court the day before the first game, and I asked him about it and he tells me ‘it’s too extreme.’ I already discussed it with Mike in the locker room, and he tells me, ‘man, that’s wild, man.’ So it’s not anything I haven’t faced before.”
After the Bulls won the ’91 championship, Hodges and his teammates were invited to the White House by then-president George H.W. Bush. Hodges wore a dashiki and wrote a letter to Bush detailing racism Black Americans were facing in the country at the time.
When NBA players unified this past week to protest the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin, Hodges saw the type of activism he pushed for nearly two decades earlier.
“It was beautiful,” Hodges told CBS Sports. “I felt like all of the ancestors were smiling, and I said ‘man, our young brothers got some backbone.’ We already know the women have backbone, because they’ve been doing this and they’ll walk away from it, no issue. But it’s for the brothers that cling to the trinkets of white supremacy and racism and the things that come with it: a nice house in a gated community next to my billion-dollar owner. That’s what success has been modeled at for young African-American men. So now we talk about wanting to get out of the community as opposed to building it up. As opposed to how can I make my community reflective of my culture or heritage and still be appreciated.”
LeBron James recently shared a note Kaepernick wrote him that read in part, “thank you for being true.” James helped spearhead NBA players kneeling during the national anthem when the season restarted in the Orlando bubble. Players, coaches and referees took a knee to protest in the wake of the death of George Floyd. Then this past week, James was part of a core group of players who reached out to former President Barack Obama on whether to conclude the postseason following the Blake shooting.
Hodges was particularly impressed with players like James who use their platform to drive change – pointing towards progress, considering the game’s biggest star is now at the forefront of activism efforts.
“I love the fact that they’re dealing with the information that they have, and they’re working with the information that they have. You don’t have to be a historical scholar, but you have to have empathy,” Hodges said of James and NBA players. “You have to try to see the world not from your millionaire eyesight, but from the poorest person sitting on the corner with a can in their hand asking you for a dollar. That’s the way I see some of these young brothers, they’re feeling that, because they’re not too far removed from that.”
Follow reporter Scott Gleeson on Twitter @ScottMGleeson