After our Saturday morning pick-up basketball game, Willie and Sid dubbed me an “honorary brother” – a nod to our abilities, through basketball, to revel in our diversity. A few minutes later we walked out of the gym and into the teeth of racism raging from a recording allegedly of Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling. A weekend of basketball – which brought me, Willie and Sid together – was now filled with constant reminders of what could divide us.
The recording had a man half ordering and half pleading with his mistress not to show photos of herself with black people on Instagram and not to bring black people to Clippers games. This despite Sterling profiting from the labor of primarily African-American players and speaking to a woman who identifies herself as a mix of Mexican and black. Perhaps the race most insulted by these comments is the human race.
The recordings immediately brought to mind their antithesis, a quotation from Nelson Mandela: “Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does.”
I experienced this at age eight, moving from Skokie – a suburb of Chicago, where I had never met a black person – to the racially mixed northwest side of Milwaukee. Basketball built the bridge. When we moved again to Whitefish Bay – a suburb outside Milwaukee that was experiencing its first year of court-ordered busing of black students – basketball brought us together again. It connected me with Larry Spence, a teammate who claimed to be a cousin of Doc Rivers, who was then our hero as a star player for Marquette University, and is now our hero as a PCA National Advisory Board Member and courageous coach of Sterling’s Clippers.
Throughout the weekend’s coverage of the horrific remarks, commentators unanimously said nobody was better equipped than Doc Rivers to lead his wounded community. Here’s hoping this controversy starts conversation much needed in this country, and that the result is that boys and girls of all races, religions, ethnicities, sexual orientations and any other area of diversity can play together in peace.