[News] One of the NBA’s finest sharpshooters and a two-time champion, but was run out of the league for his outspoken views.

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Fri Apr 21 12:27:05 EDT 2017


  Craig Hodges: 'Jordan didn't speak out because he didn't know what to
  say' | Sport

Donald McRae
April 20, 2017

“I’m sad to say that one of our players was shot on Monday,” Craig 
Hodges <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=51k3HQyc7oA> reveals after he 
has spoken for an hour about his brave but tumultuous career in the NBA. 
Hodges fell out with Michael Jordan 
<https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rL--gQ2AvJY>, 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 <https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/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 
<https://www.haymarketbooks.org/books/964-long-shot>, 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.”

“What’s happening to our people in this country is extreme,” Hodges replied.

The finals were played as normal, and Hodges and the Bulls won the 
championship <http://www.nba.com/history/finals/19901991.htm>, but he 
regrets the failure to stage a united protest. “Our generation dropped 
the ball as a lot of us were more concerned with our own economic gain. 
We were at that point where branding was just beginning and we got 
caught up in individual branding rather than a unified movement.”

Hodges became a one-man protest movement within the NBA. In October 
1991, the Bulls were invited to the White House to meet President Bush. 
The assault on King remained fresh in his mind, as did the US bombing of 
Iraq that January 
and so Hodges wrote an impassioned eight-page letter to the president – 
on behalf of “most specifically, the African Americans who are not able 
to come to this great edifice and meet the leader of the nation in which 
they live”.

He wore a dashiki and George W, the president’s son and a future 
occupant of the Oval Office, spoke slowly as if Hodges might not 
understand English. “Where are you from?”

“Chicago Heights, Illinois,” Hodges answered, amused at the way in which 
W’s excitement at meeting the famous Bulls, which had him “bouncing 
around like a kid” at his father’s workplace, had disappeared into 
startled incomprehension.

Phil Jackson, the Bulls’ coach, informed the president that Hodges was 
the Bulls’ best shooter. On a half-court set up on the South Lawn, 
Hodges drained three-pointers from 24 feet. He hit nine in a row, his 
white dashiki swirling gently around him. As they left the court, Hodges 
told the president he had written him a personal letter.

Did Bush reply to the letter? “He never did,” Hodges says, calmly. “I 
wonder sometimes if he got past page one. I wonder if he even read it? 
When I was researching my book I got in touch with the George Bush 
library to get the original copy. The lady there loved it. She was like: 
‘Oh, this is a great letter. You actually gave this to the president?’ I 
said: ‘Yeah, and I got in lots of trouble for it.’”

Hodges did not mind that his letter was leaked to the media in 1991. But 
it made him a marked man. He remained with the Bulls and, the following 
year, emulated Larry Bird by becoming the only other player in NBA 
<https://www.theguardian.com/sport/nba> history to win three successive 
three-point contests at the all-star weekend – showcasing his skill in 
sinking long-range shots.

Hodges won $20,000, and asked his fellow Bulls to join him in each 
pooling a similar amount from their vast earnings to help local 
communities. His team-mates avoided the invitation, saying they would 
need to clear it with their agents. Hodges was disappointed, because “I 
envisioned the Chicago Bulls 
<https://www.theguardian.com/sport/chicago-bulls> making history in the 
most meaningful way. We also had a basketball player [Jordan] whose 
popularity exceeded that of the pope. If the Bulls spoke in a collective 
voice during the golden age of professional basketball, the world would 

In his absorbing book, Hodges stresses how he tried repeatedly to 
persuade Jordan to “break with Nike and go into the sneaker business for 
himself, with the aim of creating jobs in the black communities”. Jordan 
argued he was not in a position to take control while he was tainted by, 
allegedly, saying: “Republicans buy sneakers, too.”

The veracity of that quote might be hazy 
but Jordan, unlike Hodges, clearly avoided political engagement. Kareem 
Abdul-Jabbar, such a force in the NBA in the 1970s and 80s, said Jordan 
chose “commerce over conscience”.

On 29 April 1992, with the Bulls cruising through the play-offs, the Los 
Angeles riots broke out after the four LAPD officers were cleared of all 
resulting from their savage assault on King. That same day, Jordan 
scored 56 points against the Miami Heat 
<https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JVcwa99dBB4>. Asked to comment on the 
King verdict, Jordan said: “I need to know more about it.”

Rioting spread across LA for six days and Hodges followed the televised 
news – noticing how often, amid play-off fever, a “Be Like Mike” 
commercial <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b0AGiq9j_Ak> in homage to 
Jordan was repeated. After game two of the 1992 championship final 
against Portland, Hodges was asked about the NBA’s lack of black owners. 
He spoke out against racism in the NBA, and across America, and 
criticised Jordan for failing to address the judicial injustice towards 

The New York Times ran the story 
and Hodges’ career was effectively over. Twenty-five days after Chicago 
became champions again, Hodges was told he would not be offered a new 
deal. He had just turned 32 – but Hodges had been part of successive 
title-winning campaigns and remained king of the three-pointers.

Hodges’ knowledge of the game and enduring shooting skills could not 
compensate for his political conviction. His belief that Jordan and his 
agent Dave Falk were, in tandem with others, “going to run me out of the 
league” came true. Not one NBA team would offer a contract to a free 
agent of huge experience.

His precarious situation deteriorated when his own agent, Bob Woolf, 
said he could no longer represent him. Hodges could not even find a new 
agent. “No one would return my calls,” he remembers. While he waited 
forlornly for an offer from the NBA, which never came, Hodges played in 

Unlike when Ali, John Carlos and Tommie Smith made powerful gestures of 
political defiance in the civil rights-enflamed 1960s, Hodges was an 
outcast. “It was a different climate. A brother facing oppression in the 
1960s felt it the same, whether he was a bus driver or Ali. Look what 
the brothers did in Mexico City [when Carlos and Smith raised their 
fists in black power salutes 
during the playing of the Star Spangled Banner on the Olympic podium in 
1968]. They faced unemployment and disenfranchisement.

“I had that too but, in my era, not many people stood up. The climate 
was very conservative – and it got worse because athletes were afraid to 
speak because of the ramifications I faced.”

In his foreword to Hodges’ book, the sportswriter Dave Zirin recalls 
that, when he started covering the NBA in 2003, he asked players why 
they did not speak out politically. The stock answer, fed to the players 
by their agents, was stark: “You don’t want to be like Craig Hodges.”

That troubling quote is echoed by Kaepernick’s failure to win a new 
contract now he is no longer a quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers. 
Hodges is sympathetic. “The cruel part about it, man, is he’s speaking 
on behalf of people who can’t speak for themselves. Now he’s spoken, it 
seems his platform has been removed. It’s like [the NFL] are saying: 
‘We’re going to take him away because we don’t want his views to catch 
fire. We don’t want him in a locker room spreading this truth.

“I applaud Colin. I’m trying to reach out to the brother so I can let 
him know personally: ‘I respect you. If there’s anything I can do please 
don’t hesitate to call me. I’ve got your back.’ I know he loves to play 
the game. So not getting a contract is hurtful to his essence. The fact 
he’s not even getting offers right now is depressing for me, for him. I 
know these feelings.”

But Hodges believes the outpouring of support for Kaepernick 
especially on social media, “has to be heartening for him. He must know 
that, ‘Hey man, I’m doing the right thing.’”

Hodges, in contrast, received no support. “None at all. Today, on social 
media, people can vibe with you even if they can’t do anything about 
your opportunity to play. So I feel good he knows people support him. 
Now, if the NFL doesn’t stump up and he doesn’t get an opportunity, fans 
who are supportive of Colin should show their displeasure and stage a 
boycott. Don’t buy jerseys or don’t go to the game to show appreciation 
for his stance.”

The way in which social media has publicised campaigns such as Black 
Lives Matter <http://blacklivesmatter.com/> has meant sportsmen can no 
longer plead ignorance as Jordan and Scottie Pippen once did. When 
Hodges tried to get his team-mates to read more about black history, 
Pippen supposedly said: “What do I need education for? I make six figures.”

Hodges harbors no animosity towards Pippen or even Jordan. “Michael 
didn’t speak out largely because he didn’t know what to say – not 
because he was a bad person.”

It should also be pointed out that Jordan chose to snub President Bush’s 
invitation when the Bulls visited him in 1991. “I’m not going to the 
White House,” Hodges remembers Jordan saying. “Fuck Bush. I didn’t vote 
for him.”

How does he regard Jordan, 25 years on? “He’s a savvy businessman. I 
applaud him for that, I don’t hate on that. But he’s gained knowledge 
through life experience and he has been getting into decent projects 
I’m sure he is more conscious now.”

Phil Jackson was the only man in the Chicago locker room to share 
Hodges’ unhappiness at America’s bombing of Iraq in 1991. “We get stuck 
in one idea of patriotism,” Hodges says, “and if I don’t march to the 
beat of that soundbite I’m unpatriotic. Me and Phil were different. When 
the Gulf war broke out in 1991, on Dr King Day, actually, everybody 
said: ‘We need to bomb the shit out of them.’ Phil let them finish and 
he said: ‘If we do that, then remember that’s going to leave an orphan 
who will feel the pain as he grows up with the idea of revenge. Don’t be 
too quick to cheer – because retaliation is in his hands now.”

Jackson ended Hodges’ 13-year isolation from the NBA when he offered him 
a coaching role at the LA Lakers. Hodges won two more championships with 
Jackson and the Lakers. The old wounds have healed but surely he 
despairs when, apart from the continuing loss of young black lives, 
Trump is in the White House?

“You would love to think we’ve come a long way, and that’s saddening to 
me at times. The imagery portrays that black people have come a long 
way. We had a black president so we now can’t talk about race any more? 
But we’re still the least represented people in this nation.”

Hodges dismisses Barack Obama’s presidency 
“He did some good things, I’m sure,” Hodges snorts, “but I don’t know 
what they are. Maybe he tried to get healthcare for everybody, but 
they’re still running it the way they want.”

Yet replacing Obama with Trump must dishearten Hodges? “No. It’s not 
disheartening because there are natural cycles of life. We have been so 
mis-educated we don’t understand there is a supreme answer. You know 
that old song – Age of Aquarius? It’s about the dawning of a new age. 
It’s coming, even if Trump says we’re going to make America great again. 
For me, as a black man, when was America great? What’s so great about 
the founding fathers, the civil war, the killing of Martin Luther King, 
the killing of Malcolm X? The blackballing of athletes during that 
period? What period are you talking about when America was great?’

“But we are going to win, eventually, because poor people will rise, the 
disenfranchised will be franchised, and that franchisement ain’t coming 
by no political act. It’s coming from time and energy where people are 
getting tired of the bullshit. It will happen naturally. Social media 
shows us many people have the same feeling as Colin Kaepernick 
<https://www.theguardian.com/sport/colin-kaepernick>. They’re just not 
as visible. But there’s a grassroots thing going on. It’s a feeling in 
America right now, especially among young people, that something has to 
be done. Everyday life matters. Not just Black Lives Matter. We all matter.”

Far from stressing over Trump, or lamenting the millions he lost when 
shut out of the NBA, Hodges sounds cheerful. “My son Jamaal loves to 
tell me: ‘You’re the Forrest Gump of basketball because of all the 
people you met. You’ve crossed paths with people that have been so 
illuminating.’ He’s right. Take this conversation between you and me.”

Hodges and I have swapped notes about him growing up in Chicago while I 
was a small boy living under apartheid in South Africa 
<http://donaldmcrae.com/underourskinabout.html> – where Arthur Ashe was 
from playing tennis because he was black. “You can’t tell me that there 
ain’t some creator in all of this. That’s why I say there are cycles of 
time and natural rhythms of law which change things and bring us 
together. The fact you and I are having this conversation is cool. We 
have a young brother that was in South Africa when they wouldn’t allow 
Arthur Ashe, and a brother that was in Chicago watching Arthur Ashe 
trying to go to South Africa. Now you and me are talking.

“All the boundaries and divisions between us are manmade. And the human 
family is starting to cast that shit off. It was a South African, Nelson 
Mandela, who gave me hope at my lowest point, when I was out the NBA. He 
had been freed a few months earlier [after 27 years in prison] and he 
came to Chicago. There was a dinner in his honor and Mandela asked to 
sit next to me. I grew up in the projects, man. So that’s a power bigger 
than me. I was in awe. I kept asking him: ‘What was it like to be away 
from your people for so long?’ He was amazing. Truth gave him power. He 
didn’t need to be anyone other than himself. That’s freedom.”

Hodges has also found freedom. He will keep teaching basketball and 
speaking out – amid his belief that, finally, justice will prevail 
despite the political system and bleak shootings. “We’ll win all our 
battles in the end. Until then I’m just doing what I can to keep 
children out of harm’s way as much as possible. It’s the right way.”

Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415 
863.9977 www.freedomarchives.org
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