Glenn “Doc” Rivers is reportedly paid $10 million a year to coach the Los Angeles Clippers. It is not enough.
That’s not a statement of his market value, but an answer to those who think he had no business saying what he said last week.
Rivers, who is African American, gave an impassioned postgame speech on Jacob Blake, the Black man who was shot seven times in the back by a police officer in Kenosha, Wisc. “What stands out to me,” he said, “is just watching the Republican convention and they’re spewing this fear. ... We’re the ones getting killed. We’re the ones getting shot. We’re denied to live in certain communities. We’ve been hung. ... It’s amazing to me,” he added, his voice choking, “why we keep loving this country and this country does not love us back.”
The next day, the Milwaukee Bucks refused to take the court for a playoff game. All three games that day were canceled, as were some games in the WNBA and Major League Baseball. TNT basketball analyst Kenny “The Jet” Smith walked off the set in solidarity.
And some will say — have already said — how can Doc Rivers complain? He makes so much money. What does he know about racial bias?
White people often think you can buy your way out of race. They refuse to grasp that racism doesn’t care how much money you make or how many diplomas adorn your walls. Thabo Sefolosha of the Houston Rockets earns a reported $2.5 million a year; New York City police broke his leg. Danielle Morgan has a bachelor’s degree, two master’s degrees and a doctorate. Campus cops at Santa Clara University knocked on her door and required her to prove her house was her house.
Money is not enough. Education is not enough. Excellence is not enough.
But enough is enough. That’s why the NBA called timeout.
In the sudden silence of those gyms, something was said. It is the same thing Martin Luther King said in Montgomery, Ala., in 1955. “There comes a time when people get tired.”
What followed King’s words was not mere applause. It was as if the audience detonated, an explosive release of frustrations and indignities that had been swallowed down for years. One senses the same potential for eruption now. You can gauge how fed up African Americans are by the fact that these basketball players, wealthy men living childhood dreams, competing on their sport’s biggest stage for its highest prize, are willing to put that aside for something more important.
The question is whether those who most need to understand that, will. There is reason to hope. This summer we saw thousands of newly awakened white allies standing up for and with African Americans. There is also reason to doubt. Last week, we saw white conservatives once again more outraged over the looting and destruction of buildings than the looting and destruction of lives.
The path we choose in this moment — “Black Lives Matter” or “Shut up and dribble” — will go a long way in determining whether we’ll have an America 10 years from now and what sort of America it will be. Meantime, in Kenosha, a white 17-year-old armed with a long gun walks down the street, witnesses yelling after him that he just shot three protesters, yet police, whose colleague was so threatened by a Black man’s back that he shot it, let the boy walk right on by.
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Because of course they did. Because Doc Rivers does not make enough. And because he was right. Black people have defended America, respected America, believed in America and loved America for 400 years.
It’s high time America returned the favor.
Leonard Pitts Jr., winner of the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, is a columnist for the Miami Herald, 3511 N.W. 91 Avenue, Doral, Fla. 33172. Readers may write to him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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