Before Colin Kaepernick started a social movement and became a controversial figure for taking a knee during the national anthem to protest police brutality, former NBA guard Craig Hodges said he was basically run out of the league for his outspoken viewpoints on social issues.
Hodges, now 56, is coaching high school basketball in Chicago and has written a book, “Longshot: The Triumphs and Struggles of an NBA Freedom Fighter,” that details his career. He recently granted an interview to the Guardian.
In the forward to the book, sportswriter Dave Zirin says he used to ask NBA players why they didn’t speak out more politically, back when he started covering the league 14 years ago. The stock answer: “You don’t want to be like Craig Hodges.”
In 1991, for example, Hodges said he tried to convince Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson to stage a boycott of Game 1 of the NBA Finals between the Lakers and Bulls. The game was being played a few months after Rodney King, a black man, had been brutally beaten by four white policemen in Los Angeles. Meanwhile, in Hodges’ home state of Illinois, 32 percent of the black population lived below the poverty line.
According to Hodges, Jordan told him his idea was “crazy.” Hodges said of Jordan: “Michael didn’t speak out largely because he didn’t know what to say – not because he was a bad person.”
Magic said a boycott was “too extreme.”
Jordan, Hodges and the Bulls lost Game 1 of that NBA Finals, but won the next four games to take the championship. Hodges, a former NBA 3-point shot contest champion, still has some regret over missing an opportunity.
“Our generation dropped the ball as a lot of us were more concerned with our own economic gain,” he said. “We were at that point where branding was just beginning and we got caught up in individual branding rather than a unified movement.”