Hodges is roughly 45 days older than the senior editor, who remains fascinated by the confluence of politics and sports. Hodges was blacklisted, but NBA owners routinely play politics with arena construction. Why not boycott THEM?
Craig Hodges: ‘Jordan didn’t speak out because he didn’t know what to say’, by Donald McRae (The Guardian)
He was one of the NBA’s finest sharpshooters and a two-time champion alongside Michael Jordan, but was run out of the league for his outspoken views. A quarter of a century on, Craig Hodges is still fighting the good fight
“I’m sad to say that one of our players was shot on Monday,” Craig Hodges reveals after he has spoken for an hour about his brave but tumultuous career in the NBA. Hodges fell out with Michael Jordan, confronted George Bush Sr in the White House and won two championships with his hometown team, at a time when the Chicago Bulls were venerated around the world, before he was ostracised and shut out of basketball for being too politically outspoken.
At home in Chicago, where Hodges and one of his sons, Jamaal, now coach basketball at his old high school, Rich East, his urgency is tinged with pathos. “He’s in surgery right now,” the 56-year-old says of his wounded player. “He got shot in the hip. He’s only a freshman so he’s just a 15-year-old. It’s stuff like this we’re battling every day. A few weekends ago in Chicago, five people got killed, so it’s terrible. There is so much injustice, but it’s just a matter of time before we win these battles.”
Hodges has told his compelling life story with fiery passion, looping around a cast of characters stretching from Jordan, Magic Johnson and Phil Jackson back to Muhammad Ali, Arthur Ashe and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, before returning to the present. Sport and politics are entwined again in a country where Donald Trump is president and Colin Kaepernick remains locked outside football as an unsigned free agent who had the temerity to sink to one knee during the national anthem. And teenage African American boys, just like they were when Hodges was trying to shake up the NBA, are still being gunned down.
Hodges always wanted to voice his opposition to injustice. In June 1991, before the first game of the NBA finals between the Bulls and the LA Lakers, Hodges tried to convince Jordan and Magic Johnson that both teams should stage a boycott. Rodney King, an African American, had been beaten brutally by four white policemen in Los Angeles three months earlier – while 32% of the black population in Illinois lived below the poverty line.
As he writes in his new book Longshot: The Triumphs and Struggles of an NBA Freedom Fighter, Hodges told the sport’s two leading players that the Bulls and Lakers should sit out the opening game, so “we would stand in solidarity with the black community while calling out racism and economic inequality in the NBA, where there were no black owners and almost no black coaches despite the fact that 75% of the players in the league were African American”.
Jordan told Hodges he was “crazy” while Johnson said: “That’s too extreme, man.”