Basketball players and coaches have always had a bold voice for political and social reform – The Irish Times

With half a chance, Ben Wilson would have been 55 this year. He was born in Chicago: a son of the dark city of Bellow when it really was that – plagued by crack addiction and occasional gun violence. The year 1984 was a pivotal year in the cultural fabric of the city: Michael Jordan was chosen by the Chicago Bulls and became an American icon of the end of the 20th century.

At the same time, 17-year-old Benji Wilson was considered the best youth basketball player in town, an insane accolade in a city of 2.5 million people. He was 6′8″ and played like a keeper: “Magic Johnson with a jump shot” was his coach’s summary. Less than a month into Jordan’s debut for the Bulls — with the winds from the lake turning icy and vengeful — Wilson found himself on a daily casual street that escalated. A gun was produced, Wilson was shot twice and died in hospital. Because of his profile and reputation – the NBA beckoned – his story gained national coverage and decades later became the subject of a sad and gripping ESPN documentary.

But he was just one of 1.5 million Americans to die from gun violence between the years of 1968 – when he was one year old – and 2017.

The latest Uvalde, Texas atrocity happened just before a scheduled press conference for Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr. In a past life, Kerr was the pale, snappy winger on Jordan’s dominant Bulls team. He was, by his own admission, a true grafter, lacking none of the silky, athletic explosiveness of most NBA players.

He worked demonically. He got better. And he was tough – one of the few players to push Jordan away in a typical practice smash. In his life as a coach, Kerr quickly established himself as an equally fearless voice for social and political progress in America. It was not surprising that he found the idea of ​​talking about a basketball game ridiculous and even wrong considering that, like most people in the world, he learned that many children had died in the last American example of gun madness.

What was surprising, however, was the visibility of Kerr’s barely contained rage and frustration. His lips quivered and his voice cracked as he condemned US senators who refused to vote on gun control. Kerr’s father, a college professor, suffered gun violence while serving as president of the American University of Beirut in 1982, a tragedy that had a profound effect on the family. But there was something vital and upset about Kerr’s behavior on Wednesday that suggested he was speaking as a parent and citizen as much as from personal experience.

“Since we left filming, 14 children [as was known then] were killed 400 miles from here. And a teacher. And in the past 10 days, elderly black people have been killed in a supermarket in Buffalo; we had Asian worshipers killed in southern California. And now we have children being murdered at school.

“When are we going to do something? I’m so tired of standing here and offering my condolences to the devastated families. I am sorry. I’m tired of moments of silence. Sufficient! There are 50 senators currently refusing to vote on HR8, which is a background check rule the House passed two years ago, and it has stood there. And the reason they won’t vote is to retain power.

A makeshift memorial for the victims of the shooting outside Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. Photo: Chandan Khanna/AFP

He nominated-verified Mitch McConnell, the Senate Republican leader. He spoke for just 2 1/2 minutes, calling the collective senators “pathetic” before walking out. Within an hour, her post was dominating all social media platforms. That night, of course, there was a moment of silence before the game. And the following night, when the Boston Celtics took on the Miami Heat, a similar moment of respect was honored. And afterwards, the Heat announcer urged the crowd — and millions of spectators — to phone state senators to lobby for support for “common sense gun laws.” A phone number was announced in the auditorium. Applause began to echo through the arena before the announcement ended.

It was a surprising departure from the normal pre-match ceremonies. And it prompted a series of rapid responses on Twitter from Marco Rubio, the Florida senator who was among the Republican presidential candidates whose ambitions were dashed by Trump’s performance in 2016. He criticized the NBA for keeping the silence on human rights violations in China while “politicizing”. a horrible tragedy”. He called out the Miami Heat organization for its ads urging black and Hispanic voters to get “registered to vote” following election reforms designed to make it more complicated to vote by mail.

Michael Jordan is often cited as an example of the NBA’s rigorously apolitical stance in the 1980s. Since then, players and coaches have come together to form an ever bold and urgent voice for political and social reform. We sometimes forget that, in the 1980s, Jordan crossed all kinds of social, cultural and economic barriers for black athletes: that it was a question of becoming the essential cultural figure of the time, in the same way as Ali, Marilyn Monroe or John F. Kennedy personifying his era of splendour.

During the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests across America, Jordan, now the owner of the Charlotte Hornets, lobbied other owners to allow players to vent their frustrations through protests during difficult weeks. when the play-offs and seasons seemed about to be canceled. “Right now, listening is better than talking.” The playoffs resumed, characterized by highly visible slogans on playing equipment and a blizzard of resentment from critics — including Trump — who noted NBA viewership numbers were plummeting.

But Rubio’s lightning response demonstrated that politicians are becoming concerned and alert to the impact of the NBA’s growing political consciousness. And since Rubio is high on the list of politicians who received donations from the National Rifles Association ($3.3 million), he had no choice but to serve as their spokesperson.

It seems clear that the NBA will continue to be an increasingly loud political voice. It helps that the league is populated with naturally gifted speakers like Kerr and Jaylen Brown and Greg Popovich. The extent to which their words and actions change anything is difficult to quantify. But it must be better than nothing.

Meanwhile, the NBA Finals will begin next week. Kerr will be on the sidelines, coaching Steph Curry and company. And deep in the reserves of his mind, there must be a small part of him that thinks that’s exactly what shouldn’t happen: the glitz and awe of elite sports entertainment, serving as a magnificent mass distraction. as the latest massacre of young people begins immediately. get away from the headlines and the national life goes on.

Meanwhile, a Thursday article in The Washington Post noted that the HR 8 background check bill “likely won’t pass, even after Uvalde.”

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