NBA legend Isiah Thomas on Friday pleaded with all Americans to do more to combat racial injustice, pointing to this week’s wave of protests from professional athletes as inspiration.
“We’ve been waiting for centuries to have this conversation about the oppressive … system under which blacks are forced to live in this country,” Thomas told CNBC’s “Squawk on the Street”. “What I see happening in our country is strangely very similar to what we were marching and fighting against in the 60s, 50s, 70s, 80s, 90s and now the 2000s.”
Thomas, a two-time NBA champion with the Detroit Pistons and a member of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, noted his comments on Friday came on the occasion of the 57th anniversary of the March on Washington in 1963, where Martin Luther King Jr. historic speech. ” I Have a Dream “.
Then, as now, Thomas said the protesters are simply asking, “We have equal opportunities in terms of the American dream.”
The racial justice movement sweeping the United States this summer – triggered in May by the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis and again this week by the Jacob Blake police shooting in Kenosha, Wisconsin – is basic, Thomas said. .
“This is an organic uprising of all the different classified races and colors in the streets, marching and protesting, saying we want a better America for everyone, not just a classified class of people,” he said.
Thomas cheered the pro athletes’ decision this week to protest Blake’s shooting by sitting down matches. It started Wednesday with the Milwaukee Bucks, who chose not to play the first round playoff match against the Orlando Magic, and quickly spread to other leagues such as the WNBA and MLB.
“I think it was a historic moment for social justice and also in sport,” said Thomas, who complimented the players and leagues for using their platforms to “get America’s attention to say: ‘Hey, what’s going on is wrong here.’ ”
Thomas, who grew up poor on Chicago’s West Side and became an active businessman following his NBA career, rejected people who criticized protests in sports.
On Thursday, for example, White House senior advisor Jared Kushner told CNBC, “I think NBA players are very lucky to have the financial position where they are able to take a night off work without having to suffer the consequences of. financially. ”
Thomas responded by saying, “NBA players are lucky. NFL players are financially lucky because they can afford to lose money but to bring a voice to the voiceless. That’s what it’s all about, in terms of sports and entertainment.” He added that black professional athletes and their families are somehow not immune to racism and police brutality.
“So what has been called a night off was actually a work stoppage and a boycott to draw attention to what is happening in our America. And when I say our America, I’m speaking in black and white.” Thomas said. “First we are all Americans and then we are classified in these racial categories of black and white. But first we are Americans.”