Craig Hodges is still part of the fight

Ex-Bull who grew up during civil rights era pleased with current NBA players protesting social injustice

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Craig Hodges

Former Chicago Bulls player Craig Hodges poses for a portrait at the Southland Center gym in Lynwood, Wednesday morning, Sept. 2, 2020.

Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

Catching up with former Bulls player Craig Hodges as the Jacob Blake police-involved shooting in Kenosha, Wisconsin, was trending turned out to be an eye-opening testimony to his passion as a freedom fighter. There was no talk of NBA championship victories with the Bulls while playing alongside Michael Jordan or winning the three-point contest for three consecutive years.

And while Hodges’ stance on racial and social injustice is well-known, he found himself having a new platform to address the issue, as the NBA and other sports organizations flooded the news with a positive stand in the fight against racism after the Blake shooting.

Hodges, whose attempt to organize a boycott among union basketball players after the beating of Rodney King by Los Angeles police in 1991, has been revisited countless times recently. He had this to say on the new wave of support for racial and social justice spreading among the sports community:

“It’s beautiful,” Hodges said in an interview with CBS Sports.

In a moving example of a “it’s never too late” moment, Hodges added, “I felt like all of the ancestors were smiling down and said, ‘Man, our young brothers got some backbone.’ ”

And while Black life steeped in the racist culture of America is a hot-button topic these days, Hodges has been engaged in a longtime mission to stamp out racism.

“I have always had a passion for doing the right thing,” said Hodges, who grew up in the eye of the civil rights storm.

Born in Chicago Heights in 1960 during the dawn of the civil rights era, Hodges was introduced to the movement at an early age. His mother, Ada Hodges, worked as a secretary during the day and one during the night for a civil rights group.

“The civil rights movement was literally at my front doorstep,” Hodges said.

Hodges’ book, “Long Shot: The Triumph and Struggle of an NBA Freedom Fighter,” is a testament to his dedication to the fight. First issued in 2017 and co-authored by Rory Fanning, the book was reissued as a paperback in August. Coincidence or serendipitous, the timeliness of the release is unparalleled.

With a strong Black woman for a role model growing up during the turbulent ’60s, it’s easy to see where Hodges’ passion for the cause hailed.

“Black women are the foundation of black life,” Hodges said. “They bring you into the world, they nourish and nurture you. In fact, they are essentially the backbone of not only Black culture but of all cultures.”

Hodges’ father, Saul Beck, was a long-time mayor of Ford Heights. With racial inequality, politics, activism and social reform at his front door, it’s hard to imagine Hodges not having a fiery passion for peace burning in his soul.

“The seed was planted early,” he said. “I basically grew up in the midst of freedom fighters.”

But 1991 turned out to be Hodges’ Waterloo. After the Bulls beat the Lakers to win the NBA Finals, he tried to organize a strike by showing up at the White House in a white dashiki and white cap and tried to pass a note to a staff member of President George H. W. Bush to address racism in America.

During the strike, Hodges approached Jordan and Magic Johnson.

According to Hodges, Jordan’s response was, “That’s crazy.” Johnson replied, “That’s too extreme for me.”

Hodges breaks down being turned off by Jordan and Johnson to fact, stating, “to whom much is given, much is expected.’’ And he added, “behind closed doors, you’re still Black and have to stay in your lane.”

As for his note directed at President Bush, “I never heard anything from him,” he said.

After the Bulls won their second title in 1992, Hodges was cut and felt he was blacklisted by the NBA.

“Let’s get one thing straight: Being cut by the Bulls didn’t hurt my career,’’

Hodges said of his NBA career ending abruptly. “It ended a chapter in my life. My career is advocating for peace. We as a people [Blacks] need to draw a red circle around the word ‘career.’ It’s a livelihood, not a lifestyle.”

Hodges said Black players could have stepped up to the plate and formed their own league.

“There’s so much money flowing through the sports industry that trickles down to Blacks in the form of multimillion dollar contracts, a league could have easily been started,” Hodges said.

Hodges, who recently coached at his alma mater, Rich East High School in Park Forest, spends time traveling with his adult sons between Chicago and Los Angeles mentoring students.

While he could understand the resistance of Black athletes nearly 30 years ago not speaking out about racial issues, Hodges believes today they need to do more, which is happening in the wake of the Blake shooting.

Before the present wave of Black athletes taking a stand against the antiquated ideologies ofracism in recent days, and his bold stand in 1991 now being referred to as a “Colin Kaepernick-esque moment,” Hodges talked about the former 49ers quarterback and his lone protest stand.

“Much love goes out to Colin,” he said. “He mentioned me by name during an interview on his stance. I support his courage.”

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