How a principled stand at the White House ended an NBA career

Former Chicago Bulls player Craig Hodges speaks to Ger Gilroy

NBA

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In 1992, then NBA star Craig Hodges had just won a second Championship ring with Chicago Bulls alongside Michael Jordan and head coach Phil Jackson.

On the traditional visit to the White House, he dressed in a dashiki and also delivered a hand-written letter for then United States president George HW Bush, decrying the treatment of minorities.

There were consequences for Hodges however for speaking out.

The now 56 year old was unable to find an NBA team to sign for despite being just 32 at the time.

Twenty five years on, Hodges has written a book called Long Shot: The Triumphs and Struggles of an NBA Freedom Fighter and spoke to Off The Ball about his experience of being frozen out.

Hodges' interest in the Civil Rights movement was helped by those in his upbringing who helped make him acutely aware of the social issues around him.

"When we had the chance to go to the White House, I wanted to speak on behalf of my neighbours who I grew up with in the projects and all my friends and family who wouldn't get the chance to come," he said.

"I just feel blessed to be able to have taken a stand for my people at a point in time in history when I felt it necessary to do so."

He added that he had been "wearing dashikis during the entire playoffs, so the media in Chicago that saw me, saw me in dashikis and never made a point or issue about it".

But he felt that it became a "point of discussion" once it reached the national and international scene. 

"I didn't think of the ramifications and didn't even think there would be any," he said, adding that the impact of his stand dawned on him as he went into the 1992-93 season.

With his Bulls career ended and no offers from the other teams, he was essentially frozen out after the White House visit. However, he does not have a single regret.

"If I have to do it again, I'd do the same thing," he said.

He also spoke about his early days which started out with an interest in tennis, then baseball before he took on basketball.

That took him to college at Long Beach State where he combined basketball with Black Studies, before joining Chicago Bulls in 1988 in his home state after six seasons at Milwaukee Bucks, San Diego Clippers and Phoenix Suns in the first half of the '80s.

Hodges, who had played with Jordan and later helped coach Kobe Bryant at the Los Angeles Lakers, compared the two.

"The biggest difference for me is that Kobe like MJ had the ability to take what he watched, work on it and perfect. MJ had the ability to watch Dr J and other players, watch and take it in and make it his own and I think that's the beautiful part of the game," he said, but adding that Bryant is "more of a social being than MJ".