It still bothers Craig Hodges that unlike most athletes, he didn’t have a say in when his NBA career will end.
A two-time champion with the Bulls, Hodges was one of the best shooters in the game during his prime, “going back-to-back-to-back in the three-point contest at All-Star Weekend.”
But by the age of 32, he was out of the League for reasons that had nothing to do with talent; this would cost him about 50 million dollars. To date, he maintains that he was blackballed by the NBA due to his activism and his protests to end the injustices toward the black community.
He, at a point, attempted to convince his teammates, including Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson as well as members of the opposing Los Angeles Lakers to boycott Game 1 of the 1991 Finals to protest the lack of black NBA executives and owners.
And then things got worse for the NBA star when he handed a letter to the press secretary of then-President George Bush during the Bulls championship visit to the White House in 1991.
Wearing a dashiki during the visit, his letter asked the president to address the concerns of poor and black communities.
Shortly after this visit to the White House as a champion, Hodges was blacklisted.
“The choice that I made was: I wanted to be on the right side of history. When people are oppressed, somebody has to stand up.”
Raised in a segregated America, Hodges was born in Chicago Heights, Illinois in 1960. Growing up, he experienced his family’s solemn mood following the assassination of civil rights icon Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
At a young age, Hodges also joined protests of “Whites Only” lunch counters. His activism and commitment to racial issues continued as he grew older and began what would be a successful basketball career in the 1980s.
But after the 1991-92 season, Hodges went unsigned. When the 1992-93 season began, the three-time NBA 3-Point Shootout champion was still without a team.
In December 1992, he was told by league officials that he would not be allowed to defend his three-point championship at the All-Star Game in February, reports chicagoreader.com.
“They said they have a policy where you can’t participate in an all-star event unless you’re on a roster,” Hodges said.
But that wasn’t the case.
“…everybody in the league knew it wasn’t about my game,” Hodges said. “And so, it’s funny. At the same time, for me, it was a matter of $40 to $50 million that we could have made to change the condition of poor people.”
Hodges believes he was blacklisted for his outspoken political beliefs. In fact, his letter to then-President Bush was the main reason, he said.
“The purpose of this note is to speak on behalf of the poor people, Native Americans, homeless and, most specifically, the African Americans, who are not able to come to this great edifice and meet the leader of the nation where they live,” the NBA champion’s letter began.
“This letter is not begging for anything, but 300 years of free slave labor has left the African American community destroyed. It is time for a comprehensive plan for change. Hopefully, this letter will help become a boost in the unification of inner-city youth and these issues will be brought to the forefront of the domestic agenda.”
Kept out of basketball, Hodges filed a lawsuit charging the NBA with racial discrimination because of his outspoken political nature as an African-American man but a judge dismissed it, saying the NBA star had waited too long to file it. Then his financial troubles began, forcing him to sell his rings and trophies to be able to take care of his children.
In 2005, Hodges, fortunately, returned to the game, working with Lakers as one of Phil Jackson’s assistants from 2005 until 2011.
Hodges, whose situation mirrored that of Colin Kaepernick’s, subsequently coached his alma mater, Rich East High School in Park Forest, Illinois.
“There’s a song that – I think it’s Ice Cube, he has, and it says, ‘The road to freedom is seldom traveled by the multitude.’ And that’s real, man,” Hodges was quoted by Wbur.
“That, when we look at the mission that we’re on, and we speak truth to power, we speak for the ills of those who can’t speak for themselves — that’s not a whole lot of folks. Because it’s not profitable. The money side of things is what people scrambling to get to. People not scrambling on this side.”