For a man who’s immeasurably contributed to the world of sports, this could well serve as the modern-day, black athletes’ ode to Magic Johnson, their unwinding legacy, if you will, to the first-ballot Hall of Famer and five-time NBA champion.
“They have to get involved socially,” Johnson told reporters of pro athletes this week while in Toronto attending The Giant of Africa benefit, an extravaganza organized by the Raptors to honor Nobel Peace Prize Winner Nelson Mandela. “They have to because it affects them, too. And it affects their families. They grew up in these situations; they must not forget that. They were once poor, they went to inner-city schools that didn’t have technology or computers; they didn’t have good books. I hope that they would do more.”
Over the last several days, the superstar and indelible likes of LeBron James have sought to commence laying the foundation for making just such a difference. “As a society, we just have to do better,” he said. Even as he reflected, protests raged on in Ferguson, Mo. in the wake of the non-indictment of white police officer Darren Wilson in the killing of unarmed black teen Michael Brown despite testimony from several witnesses the youth was attempting to surrender at the time he was fatally wounded and the videotaped choking death of Eric Garner in New York City blared on TV screens all across the country, where all of the officers involved again went largely unpunished.
Kobe Bryant was even less diplomatic in internalizing all the madness, tweeting “the system enables young black men to be killed behind the mask of the law.” Later, he told reporters “it’s such a higher level of conversation to have in terms of the legal justice system and how the laws are written and how the way the system is written gives the ability for Wilson to get off from these types of situations under the guidelines of the law. You could sit here and argue about it until we’re blue in the face, but until we have a serious legal system conversation, it’s going to keep on happening.”
Within hours of his Ferguson-driven declaration, Bryant’s words rang truer than he could have ever hoped they would when 12-year-old Tamir Rice was gunned down by police in Cleveland at a neighborhood park a stone’s throw from his home after they mistook a toy gun he was playing with for a real revolver.
“For us to change things, we have to get people to the table that can bring about change,” Johnson lamented. “If it’s just talk and African-Americans still stay suppressed and think that people don’t care about them, then the same thing is going to happen. And so it’s going to be important that these meetings take place and we can really bring about serious change because the distrust and the disconnect is huge.”
Derrick Rose tried to give voice to the disconnect by donning an “I Can’t Breathe” T-shirt prior to the Bulls’ Saturday night tilt against Golden State in Chicago. The phrase has become synonymous with the Eric Garner episode in that those were the last words he was heard uttering as he gasped for air while being held face down on the concrete pavement. The St. Louis Five, of Tavon Austin, Kenny Britt, Jared Cook, Stedman Bailey, and Chris Givens, tried to bridge the divide by emerging from the Rams’ tunnel with their hands raised in surrender, a stance many continue to insist Mike Brown took in his final moments of life. And James and his Miami Heat teammates desperately tried to elicit a measure of empathy by wearing hoodies, same as Trayvon Martin, stemming from his 2012 shooting death at the hands of overzealous neighborhood watchmen George Zimmerman.
Since retiring from the NBA, Magic Johnson has become almost as well-known as an advocate for AIDS and HIV awareness as he was for being a hoops god. Having a hand in helping black athletes learn to ultimately help themselves would be every bit as defining to his long and distinguished legacy.