There was a lot of talk back on Wednesday, the 50th anniversary of one of the monumental moments of American history — the March on Washington culminated in the iconic “I have a dream” speech by Martin Luther King Jr. That march and that speech helped lay out a vision that changed the course of the nation as one of the high water marks of the civil rights movement.
The speech was some of the most memorable and moving oratory ever given in the United States — and Bill Russell was feet away from Dr. King when he gave that speech.
It’s an amazing bit of history we were reminded of by TheBasketballJones.
“When I heard the speech, I had no idea that the words of that speech would last as long as they did,” Russell told USA Today in 2011 as he received his Presidential Medal of Freedom. “It never occurred to me it would be quoted 50 years later.”
Russell was the in the middle of his legendary career — he had five championships and three MVPs at that point — and his presence helped some understand the need for equality that extended from buses to restaurant counters all the way to the basketball court.
Russell had played a role in the civil rights movement as well (something talked about also in a Seattle Times story).
Russell found himself in a fit of rage — Medgar Evers was murdered in his own driveway while getting out of his car on the evening of June 12, 1963. Russell quickly sprung into action.
“Get down here,” Charles Evers, Medgar’s older brother, said to Boston’s superstar. “And we’ll open one of the playgrounds and we’ll have the first integrated basketball camp in Mississippi.” Russell did. With the Ku Klux Klan (including Evers’ killer, Byron De La Beckwith) following his every step, and with Charles barely sleeping while holding a rifle at Russell’s motel door for protection, Russell followed through on his promise.
Two months later, with the image of Evers’ assassination and the ghosts of Mississippi still fresh on his mind, Russell attended the “March On Washington” and even declined an invitation by King himself to stand beside him after meeting him the night before. Not because of any ill will, but because he understood the pain and tears it took to produce an event of this magnitude. ”He invited me to be up here, and I respectfully declined because the organizers had worked for years to get this together, and I hadn’t done anything,” said Russell at the March’s 50th anniversary.
But he did do something, by being there and lending his sizable presence to the cause.
Sevyn Streeter said the 76ers prevented her from singing the national anthem at tonight’s game because she was wearing a “WE MATTER” jersey:
“The Philadelphia 76ers organization encourages meaningful actions to drive social change. We use our games to bring people together, to build trust and to strengthen our communities. As we move from symbolic gestures to action, we will continue to leverage our platform to positively impact our community.”
This is a continuation of Carmelo Anthony‘s argument: The emphasis should be on action in communities and there’s no longer a place for gestures like Colin Kaepernick kneeling.
But this needn’t be an either/or discussion. Community-based action is obviously important (though don’t assign responsibility to NBA players to fix racism). Recognizing the width and depth of the problem is necessary – which is why symbols matter, too.
Take Street’s shirt at face value. “We matter.” “Black lives matter.” What’s so offensive about that? There is no implicit “more” attached.
Yet, the 76ers found it antithetical to their brand.
This is why the widespread “unity” message preached by arm-locking NBA players left so much to be desired.
To the 76ers, unity meant silencing Streeter.
Is that what players were demonstrating on behalf of during the preseason? I’m sure that arena was much more united with a 76ers dancer singing the anthem than it would have been with Streeter spotlighted. But sometimes divisiveness is necessary to advance a cause.
If the 76ers don’t want Streeter using their platform to say “WE MATTER,” that’s their right. Not everyone has to support that choice, though.
No NBA players followed Colin Kaepernick’s lead by kneeling during the national anthem in the preseason.
But that courageous form of protest still found its way onto NBA courts.
A national-anthem singer knelt before a Kings game, and other did at a Heat game.
Another singer wanted to take a bold stance for the 76ers’ regular-season opener against the Thunder tonight by wearing a “WE MATTER” jersey, but she said the team stopped her.
A 76ers dancer performed the anthem instead:
The 76ers deserve some latitude to choose how someone uses their platform. But what about claiming black lives matter is antithetical to the 76ers’ brand?
The team did not immediately respond to request for comment. I will update if it does.
The Russell Westbrook era didn’t get off to the fastest start for the Thunder, who fell behind the 76ers early.
This Philadelphia fan got way ahead of himself (and any reasonable standard of decency).
Via Andy Bailey of Bleacher Report:
Oklahoma City responded with a 5-0 run, Westbrook scoring three points himself and assisting another basket.
The No. 28 pick, R.J. Hunter became the first first-rounder from last year’s draft to fall out of the NBA when the Celtics waived him.
He won’t be out of the league for long.
The Bulls, the only team with an open roster spot, appear close to adding him.
Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports:
Hunter belongs in the league. Though he must knock down shots far more reliably than he has, Hunter has potential as an outside shooter with complementary ball skills to provide value. Boston just had more NBA-caliber players than roster spots.
He’s far from a lock to succeed in the NBA, but I value Hunter about as much as Tony Snell – whom the Bulls just traded for an upgrade at backup point guard in Michael Carter-Williams. That they could so cheaply replace Snell makes that deal look even better.