As Sterling Brown fights for an NBA job, he’s embraced his role in a bigger struggle
The standing ovation from the fans at Miller Park was a sobering irony, or maybe it was just a glaring example of the state of race relations in Milwaukee.
Brewers reliever Josh Hader received a raucous round of applause last week in his first home appearance since a stream of racist and homophobic tweets posted by him seven years ago as a 17-year-old became public. During All-Star Game festivities, Hader apologized for those tweets as well as again in Milwaukee with his teammates standing behind him.
The standing ovation was confusing. Why? Was it because he admitted wrong? Was it because his teammates supported him? Was it because it’s a quality reliever for a team with playoff aspirations?
Just a few miles away from where Hader throws pitches, Sterling Brown is a swingman for the Milwaukee Bucks, a 23-year-old second-year player from SMU who was the victim of a well-publicized altercation with police in front of a Milwaukee drugstore on the early morning of Jan. 26. Brown has filed a lawsuit against the Milwaukee Police Department for brutality after video revealed Brown, who was parked in a handicap spot, was tased, had his ankle stepped on, and was mocked by police while handcuffed on the ground.
Milwaukee mayor Tom Barrett told reporters, “No citizen should be treated this way.”
Brown has become one of the faces of police brutality against African-American men. And at the same time, he is fighting for a roster spot and playing time with the Bucks.
While he is trying to concentrate on playing ball, Brown knows he is part of a bigger struggle and he’s embracing the responsibility.
“I’ve got a job at the end of the day, I’ve got to be ready, I’ve got to be prepared,” Brown said of his focus on basketball. “It’s just something that I have to do. I can’t let nothing distract me. Anything else on the side, I’ve got to deal with it the best way I can, at the same time I’ve got to come and be a professional.”
Brown played for the Milwaukee Bucks in the Las Vegas Summer League, trying to regain some normalcy. His scrape with the police wasn’t publicized until the video was released and then he filed a subsequent lawsuit. Two police sergeants were suspended and one officer also received a two-day suspension for their actions in the incident. At a timeduring which the NFL is trying to suppress player protests during the national anthem, Brown has emerged as one of the reasons why these players feel compelled to relay their message.
A reminder that Brown is just 23. And he has become a voice for those who have felt unfairly victimized and profiled by police authority.
“I got a lot of support from around the league as far as front office and players,” he said. “When the time comes and everything is over with and I’ll start putting [my plan to help others] into play, I’ll definitely reach out.”
Brown has had the support of the NBA and the Bucks since the incident. Commissioner Adam Silver again offered his backing of Brown during his ordeal.
“My view hasn’t changed. I saw that Facebook post [of the video],” Silver said. “Not only was it shocking to see, but I was surprised that the police chief came out and said that he hadn’t seen it either. So I don’t really understand what happened there and how that came to be.
“It is something that we’ll continue to look at. I don’t have any more words to express how disheartening it is to see. I’ll maybe just conclude by saying I’m still incredibly proud of the work that our players are doing in this area, not just the Brown family, but how many of our players are engaged with social activism, in a very constructive way, focused on what we can do to improve our communities.”
Unlike his NFL counterpart Roger Goodell, Silver said the NBA should serve as an example and model for how to embrace and solve social issues and off-the-field issues, while others may suggest players just stick to dribbling.
“I think with so much negativity around, I look at this league, and other sports leagues, too, and other athletes, I think people are looking to the NBA and to other institutions like ours to say is there a way to come together to really try to solve problems,’’ Silver said. “And I think this league is in a unique position to add in a very constructive way to the conversation that our country is having.
“It’s been a long tradition in this league. Our players now, the ones who are in the league, and even as I spent the day with the draft class that came in, it’s part of their DNA. They come into this league with sort of eyes wide open. They understand the platform and the attention that being an NBA player provides to them, and they want to do good.
“I think as tragic as that situation is — and as you know, the Bucks are very focused on it as well — how can we use that as an opportunity to draw attention on that issue in the first instance, and then work toward positive change.”
Brown said he wants to be part of that positive change. He understands he was thrust into his role as a leader and role model and is relishing the opportunity.
“There’s a lot that look up to me,” Brown said. “There’s a lot of people that want me to execute my platform and be the voice for people. I definitely tapped into another world and I’m ready for it. It’s not [overwhelming] to me. You’ve got to be mentally strong to deal with something like that. To be able to go out there and execute and do your job.
“It’s not overwhelming at all. I’ve got a great support system all around. I try to handle it and channel it the best way I can. You gotta have fun [on the court], that’s what I’m out here for, have fun and win. That’s all I can do.”
Let’s hope Brown gets a standing ovation during his first appearance in Milwaukee’s new Fiserv Forum. If Hader got one, shouldn’t Brown?
Big3 makes first stop in Boston
Ricky Davis will be back playing hoop at TD Garden on Friday, part of the Big3 basketball league that makes its first stop in Boston in its two-year tenure. Davis is playing his first season with the Ghost Ballers, a member of the eight-team league that has allowed former NBA players to get back on the court and relive their playing days in the halfcourt format.
Davis played parts of 12 seasons in the NBA and 2½ with the Celtics. He was eventually traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves in January 2006 in the deal for Michael Olowokandi and Wally Szczerbiak. Though the mid-2000s were hard times, Davis did averaged 17 points in each of his two full seasons.
“Man, those are some of my greatest moments,” he said of his time with the Celtics. “Playing with Boston is another level. They’ve got some of the best fans ever with all sports. So I was blessed to be able to be out there in a Celtics jersey. But coming back to Boston, it’s fun.”
Davis played with six teams over his 12 seasons but in just seven playoff games, all with the Celtics.
“Everybody is expendable in the NBA, it’s just the nature of the business,” he said. “I was just making sure I had to do what I had to do on the court. Getting traded was out of my hands at the time.”
His career was filled with highs and lows, but Davis, despite playing with some poor teams, was always able to score and entertain. It’s the same in his tenure with the Big3.
“It’s amazing what Ice Cube has formed and started is epic,” Davis said. “With the caliber of guys and names of Hall of Famers and All-Stars and just giving the guys a second chance to play, it’s awesome. That camaraderie is special. We’re kind of like frat brothers that hasn’t seen each other for a while. It’s just good to be able to see these guys at this age still moving and grooving and it’s a blessing to see it.”
The Big3 doesn’t have the pace of five-on-five basketball, watching it takes getting used to because there are no fast breaks and all halfcourt sets. But the players and coaches are competitive. Ice Cube has been able to attract big names such as Amar’e Stoudemire, Corey Maggette, former Celtics Glen Davis and Brian Scalabrine, NCAA scoring king Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, Nate Robinson, Carlos Boozer, and Baron Davis.
“With Ice Cube, he’s someone you grow up listening to, grow up watching all of his movies. It was hands down an easy decision for me,” Davis said. “And just being able to play again, be on FOX (television), to be able to have my little kid see me play again, it was just amazing.”
The influx of younger players in the NBA has essentially pushed out the aging veteran besides a bench/leadership role such as Udonis Haslem in Miami or Vince Carter in Atlanta, so many of these players still possess NBA skills, if not the stamina.
“It’s a different philosophy than what we’re used to, five-on-five, getting up and down, beating guys down the court, it’s a totally different game, it brings you back to your roots,” Davis said. “It’s how you started, 21, three-on-three, one-on-one and it’s fun.”
And there are several Big3 players who still hold aspirations of returning to the NBA, including Davis, who was barely 19 when he started his NBA career with the original Charlotte Hornets in 1999.
“You still always pray about it, but with age you just start transitioning to different things,” Davis said. “It’s good that the Big3 came and gives you a chance to transition into something else and get ready for coaching. That’s my next venture, coaching and go out there and teach the next generation.”
The transition from player to ex-player is difficult and maybe the Big3 offers players a chance to play during the summer while also concentrating on life after basketball. The Big3 plays in eight cities over eight weeks and then will have semifinals in Dallas and the finals in Brooklyn on Aug. 24. It’s a chance for players to hoop during the summer, increase their marketability, earn money and then pursue their other interests when the season is over.
Davis said he’s ready to coach and for a player who was tabbed a knucklehead during times in his career, he knows what message to convey to young players.
“These young guys, you say your name and they’re like ‘Who?’ ” Davis said. “Being able to actually show them the workouts and explain it and do it with them is a big plus, being in [basketball] shape.”
Davis is definitely a more humble and reflective person than in his younger days. He fully realizes that these millennial players may not have heard of him as a player and some may have a deaf ear to his career advice. But that doesn’t curtail Davis from wanting to share his experiences, his knowledge with those who are open to learning.
“With the new generation, you definitely want to preach that you don’t want to make a mistake that could haunt you forever. Don’t make that mistake that could always haunt you. Be aware of your surroundings. There’s a lot you could hand out to the young guys.”
When asked if young guys listen to players of the previous generation, Davis said: “They listen if you tell them the right way. With me having my pedigree of playing in the NBA for 13-14 years, you can look it up and can have my testimony be a testament to the young generation. Whether they listen or not, they’ll definitely hear your voice when that time comes.”
Davis isn’t coming to Boston only to play basketball. His Ricky Davis Legacy Foundation will hold a food drive on Aug. 3 in Boston to give away produce, toiletries, and other items to disadvantaged people hours before his game. His foundation has stopped in all of the Big3 cities to offer aid.
“We always wanted to give back,” Davis said. “We encourage the nutrition part and basically gave out 200-300 meals plus the toothpaste, the toothbrush, socks, and shoes. Sometimes people just need a little push. We’re hands on. We’re out there trying to make the community better.
“With the world being so separated, we tend to forget what’s really going on in the world. We’re focused on getting everybody focused back on how to straighten out communities and get people back on their feet.”
If you think Marcus Smart had a long wait for a new contract, just imagine Houston big man Clint Capela, who ended nearly a month as a restricted free agent by signing a five-year, $90 million extension to remain with the Rockets. Capela was looking for a mega deal in the $100 million range and he could have accepted the team’s qualifying offer and become an unrestricted free agent next season. Waiting until nearly August to resolve a situation with a restricted free agent is usually not good for the player’s future with that team and Capela reportedly turned down that same $90 million offer a few weeks ago. With Smart and Capela having signed, the top remaining restricted free agent is Cleveland’s Rodney Hood, who is not expected to get an offer sheet from another club and could accept the qualifying offer. Golden State’s Patrick McCaw, who missed a portion of last season after taking a nasty fall late in the regular season, remains a restricted free agent but is expected to return to the Warriors . . . The New York Knicks took a chance on Haverhill native Noah Vonleh, the fourth NBA team in five years for the former lottery pick. Vonleh is just 22 years old and has potential. In Portland, he was a starter in most of his 2½ years there but averaged just 15.8 minutes per game, a testament to his limited impact, especially late in games. Vonleh is a classic tweener — too small to be a center and still lacking the shooting ability to stretch the floor as a power forward. Vonleh should get some minutes with the Knicks, perhaps replacing the departed Kyle O’Quinn but there’s a reason why three previous teams have given up on Vonleh, so he needs to make this opportunity work . . . Carmelo Anthony is now officially a member of the Atlanta Hawks, but that won’t last long because the club will waive him after acquiring him from the Oklahoma City Thunder. Anthony will join a unique group of players who have joined the Hawks in a salary dump or deal that would eventually send the player to another club. Rasheed Wallace played one game with the Hawks after being acquired from the Portland Trail Blazers. Atlanta traded him to the Detroit Pistons. Julius Erving was in a contract dispute with the Virginia Squires and signed briefly with the Hawks, playing two preseason games in 1972. Erving was ordered by the ABA to return to the Squires. Gary Payton spent a week with the Hawks after being traded there by the Celtics before he was waived and then re-signed with the Celtics. Anthony is expected to join the Houston Rockets.