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Current NBA Players Take an Old School Stand on Justice: Former Bulls Player Craig Hodges leads the way By Cassiette West-Williams

Brother Craig Hodges is known as a rebel in some circles. When multi-millionaire players snubbed Hodges for addressing racism 20 years ago, he stood tall and maintained his voice. He lost contracts, money and even sold some of his sports rings when the bottom fell out, but he maintained his ethics.

Craig Hodges

Today’s NBA players are a new breed of men, with the old soul of Hodges as its mentor and rallying cry.

Everything Hodges addressed in the past has been the rallying cry for NBA players, coaches and assistants, as they have marched for Black people to be respected. They have boycotted games and walked out of practice, in the name of dignity and respect for Black people to live civilly in American society.

Hodges has been embraced by a fresh set of players, pounding out principles and bouncing balls beyond the stadiums they play in.

When thousands of young boys are playing neighborhood basketball, their dreams of a six-figure salary and leaving poverty are foremost in their minds.

Politics, belief systems, and ethics are never discussed when a young man signs a professional contract because their head is focused on money. And if you have to choose between the six-figure salary or your personal values, often professional sports players bury their feelings in lieu of the cash, the upgraded lifestyle, fancy cars, and material trappings.

And some players, who challenge the system, pay a high price for their convictions. Those are the things that are not discussed prior to signing the big contract.

Just recount 1968 Olympic track runner John Carlos, who was put down for taking a stand against racism in America. He was a migrant worker to support his family. Muhammad Ali, who lost prime years as a boxer, for speaking out against the Vietnam war, was blackballed by the boxing industry. Former NFL football player Colin Kaepernick took a knee to the brutal shooting of Black men, and he still does not have a contract. There’s another name to add to the list… 

A  trip down memory lane was a life story that former point guard Craig Hodges experienced, as he recounted his life off the court and bright lights of Chicago, in his new book titled: Long Shot: The Triumphs and Struggles of a NBA Freedom Fighter.

Most people looked forward to watching the ESPN special program titled, “The Last Dance,” which traced the Chicago Bulls championship teams, of which Hodges was a team member for the first two wins. He was a three-point shooter winner for three games.

Despite Hodges’ skills, he was also asked to leave the NBA. Hodges spoke out about the police brutality against the late Rodney King, uniting Black people and closing the economic gap between African Americans and found himself shunned. When he received the boot to leave the Chicago Bulls, his teammates ignored his request to speak out on Black topics. They mocked him when he asked them to support his economic unity plan.

Hodges openly criticized his Black teammates for choosing money over courage, and thus, many of them put considerable space between the NBA Freedom Fighter and the lifetime, professional athletes. After ten years, Hodges’ reputation for being outspoken cost him his agent’s support, and he was dropped by the Bulls. None of the 29 teams offered him a contract.

He played ball overseas before he came home. He also poured his tragedy into his books.

A few years ago, I remember the school administration where I worked had called the classes in for an assembly. I was grading papers during the program until the words I heard shook me. I do not think that the school principal and staff knew who he was because Hodges’ radical thinking and strong ideas rattled them. I did think Hodges’ public speaking tours were meant for high school and college audiences, but it was great exposure for the children to hear directly from a freedom fighter. During that time, if an 8th-grade boy kneeled during the Pledge of Allegiance or refused to sing the National Anthem, most adults at the school would write them up. That discipline note was placed in their files and sent to the high school.

Some teachers kept their heads down as he spoke, and I put my grading down and started taking notes. This was someone the children should know because he was not white-washing his life. If anything, Hodges spoke over the general population’s head because he had so much to offer them from his vast experiences. Some adults cringed when he spoke of how he became a target for the NBA. Some of his experiences were hurtful, but Hodges’ message was there is a price to pay for his convictions.

When former Bulls Coach called Hodges to coach with him in Los Angeles, CA, that two-year gig ended his absence from the NBA, but it did not end his burning desire to seek justice for Black people. Today Hodges coaches at his high school while traveling and speaking about his books. It takes a certain type of scholar and gentleman to avoid being used as a pawn in America’s high profile games.

Hodges last coached for the NBA with his former coach, Phil Jackson. He was Coach Jackson’s assistant for the Los Angeles Lakers. Hodges was a point guard for the Chicago Bulls during the 1988-92 season. He was featured in the Bulls documentary, “The Last Dance,” which reflected on other players who did not have such high profile names. Hodges completed his basketball career with the Continental Basketball Association. He most recently coached with the National Rugby League in 2019.

Long Shot: The Triumphs and Struggles of an NBA Freedom Fighter can be purchased on Amazon.com