Craig Hodges’ revealing new book exposes the way the former Chicago Bulls shooting guard attempted to get Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson to speak out about Black oppression.
At the start of the 1991 NBA Finals, Hodges revealed in “Long Shot: The Triumphs and Struggles of an NBA Freedom Fighter,” he told Jordan and Johnson that they should get the Bulls and the Los Angeles Lakers to not play the opening game. Hodges’ plea came after the March beating of Rodney King by four white police officer in L.A.
Hodges, a two-time NBA champion with the Bulls, wanted the teams to “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 percent of the players in the league were African-American,” according to an excerpt obtained by The Guardian.
Jordan and Johnson weren’t on board.
“That’s too extreme, man,” Johnson reportedly said, while Jordan, who is known for staying quiet about politics until recently, allegedly deemed it “crazy.”
“What’s happening to our people in this country is extreme,” Hodges told Johnson.
Hodges also claims he tried to get his fellow teammates to raise around $20,000, the amount he earned by becoming the only NBA player other than Larry Bird to win three consecutive three-point contests during All-Star weekend, to help Chicago communities. The team reportedly brushed it off and blamed needing to get it past their agents.
“I envisioned the Chicago Bulls making history in the most meaningful way,” Hodges told The Guardian. “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 listen.”
During Jordan’s reign as a Nike spokesperson, Hodges said he repeatedly urged Jordan to “break with Nike and go into the sneaker business for himself, with the aim of creating jobs in Black communities.”
How Jordan responded to that is unclear.
When the officers involved in the King beating were cleared in April 1992, Jordan was asked about his thoughts at a post-game press conference and responded that he needed “to know more about it.”
Hodges wasn’t afraid to speak up and he says that eventually cost him his playing career. At the time, he condemned the NBA’s racism and slammed Jordan for not taking a stand on the King verdict.
“Michael didn’t speak out largely because he didn’t know what to say, not because he was a bad person,” Hodges said.
Today, 56-year-old Hodges coaches for the Westchester Knicks of the NBA Development League. He plans to keep speaking out and applauds free-agent quarterback Colin Kaepernick for protesting Black oppression.
“I’m trying to reach out to the brother so I can let him know personally: ‘I respect you,’ he said of the former San Francisco 49er. “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 said social media, which didn’t exist during his 13-year exile from the NBA, probably helps Kaepernick stay positive.
When it comes to the election of President Donald Trump, Hodges isn’t discouraged.
“Even if Trump says we’re going to make America great again,” Hodges said, “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,” he said. “It’s coming from time and energy where people are getting tired of the bullshit. It will happen naturally.”