“It’s not crazy. That’s the norm, ”said George Hill, the Oklahoma City guard. “What were you waiting for? Were you expecting something different? I’m not at all surprised at all of this. I knew it was coming.
When asked if he was referring to protesters loyal to President Donald Trump who broke into the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday or Tuesday, the announcement that prosecutors in Kenosha, Wisconsin would not wear Criminal charges against police officers in the August shooting of African-American Jacob Blake, he told The Undefeated, “I’m referring to all of this.
On August 26, the then-Milwaukee Bucks guard became a prominent figure in the NBA’s social justice movement when he told head coach Mike Budenholzer and three black assistant coaches over lunch that ‘he wasn’t in a playoff game against the Orlando Magic in protest of Blake’s shooting. The Bucks ended up making history by collectively deciding not to play. Hill and his then-teammate Sterling Brown, who had endured police brutality in Milwaukee, spoke on behalf of the team after the protest was announced.
The NBA ended up postponing all three games that day and no playoff competition was held over a three-day period in protest. The WNBA, MLB, NHL and tennis star Naomi Osaka also followed with protests in the following days.
“I’m really proud of what I’ve done,” Hill said. “I really wasn’t trying to trigger anything. I was just doing what I thought was really right. I didn’t know what other people could do or what others might think, the consequences that might follow or the positive aspects that might follow. I did not think about it. I only thought about what I thought was right. What I believe in is what humanity should be and I went for it.
Hill, who is now with the Thunder after being traded by the Bucks in the offseason, caught up with The Undefeated before playing host New Orleans Pelicans on Wednesday for the following Q&A.
The three-day NBA protest finally pushed players to focus on voting. You also returned to Milwaukee in October to join some 50 volunteers from the Milwaukee-based Common Ground organization to encourage people to vote early. How do you think about it?
I supported this change. To make people feel comfortable in their own skin. Feel comfortable telling the truth and standing up for something. Going into those neighborhoods and going door to door and fighting with the people of Wisconsin who really care about that meant a lot. I’ve spoken to young men and women who have never voted in their lives on the importance of this. The importance for them to use their voice and to come out and vote was the reason Wisconsin was toppled this year.
I was very excited not only for myself, but for the state of Wisconsin and the city of Milwaukee and all the other surrounding cities. They saw things like that and they went to vote. It meant something to them. It just wasn’t an election anymore.
How did you make Kenosha’s decision on Tuesday that criminal charges would not be laid against the officer who shot Jacob Blake and paralyzed him?
I took it hard at first. But I have already prepared for this. I prayed and prepared [mentally] because I knew it would happen where none of these cops were held responsible for anything. We have seen it too often. It’s like that old continuous record player that plays the same song over and over again.
I knew. I felt bad for Mr. and Mrs. Blake. I felt bad for Jacob himself. I felt bad that his children had to see this. You have to go on living. When things happen, you continue to understand other things. I will continue to pray for the family, his children and himself. But I knew that justice would not be served.
When you were in the bubble and triggered the Bucks protest, did you receive any negative reactions from opposing players for what you and the team did without talking to the other teams?
Everyone had mixed emotions. I would never throw anybody out there. I just know that not everyone was in agreement on certain things and that’s to be expected. But I’m not the one to say that this person did this or that this person did not accept that. All I can say is that not everyone felt the same.
How did you come to terms with being traded from the Bucks to the Thunder on November 23 after everything you’ve done on and off the pitch?
When you do things that ruffle the feathers and are out of the ordinary, you should know that there will be negative reactions. I prepared myself this summer so that I probably wasn’t there. People thought I was probably crazy to think that. But I am human. It is what it is. We have seen it several times.
We saw Colin Kaepernick [kneel] for what he believed and they tried to destroy his life. I was going to accept this with open arms if I couldn’t return to play for Milwaukee. No disrespect for them. They did what they thought was right for the organization.
Do you think that trading Bucks you were just a basketball move or more than that?
We’ll never know, right? It’s not me to talk about it if it’s more. If it’s more than basketball, they’ll live with it. If it weren’t … we’ll never know. I’m sure they won’t categorically come out and say it. So it doesn’t really matter.
How has it been for you so far in Oklahoma City? How would you like to make an impact off the pitch there?
No matter how long I am in a city, I want to do something to make an impact on that city. The first thing we need to work on is this Julius Jones case and try to get him off death row. I think it’s huge. Part of my job is to be myself and keep moving at my own pace.[Thunder general manager] Sam Presti and owner Clay Bennett have been phenomenal since I got here. They welcomed me, supported me, took me and kissed me with open arms. I have nothing bad to say about this organization. They were first class and it was really fun being here.
How are you involved in the Julius Jones situation?
I’ve talked to people who have educated me better on the situation before I jump into something and not know. We are in talks. I know our owner Clay Bennett is very committed to police reform. I can’t wait to meet him and learn more about the things he’s involved in and talk about things that are meaningful to me.
The centenary of the race riot in Tulsa is coming soon. Do you hope to be part of the commemoration event?
Certainly. I told our young guys here in Oklahoma when I got here. Many of them didn’t even know what had happened. I would love to get involved. I would love to drive and go sightseeing [the memorial] and the city one of my days off, and where it took place. It’s a great educational thing for me… I really want to go sightseeing, take a walk, shake my hand and be a part of it.
Do you still love basketball despite what’s going on in the world and the exchanges?
I still enjoy the game. I’m not a basketball fan when it comes to watching it and playing video games, being locked into every game that is on TV. But I’m in love with the competitive side. I love to compete. I love going there and playing with my teammates.
That being said, I still love the game. Is it a little different now from team to team? You try to give everything you got to an organization by being loyal and things like that. Sometimes he doesn’t feel mutual. But as they say: “It’s a business”, right?
Black Lives Matter signs on the court, social justice messages on the back of shirts and other messages have disappeared this season. Would you agree that the enthusiasm for speaking out against social justice by the NBA and the players doesn’t seem to be the same now as it was in the bubble?[The NBA] had to do it. This is the only way they can get players to come back and play. They had to give them something. They got what we wanted. They played.
From the perspective of the players, it’s just calm. Guys are really starting to see that it doesn’t matter what you do, what you say, at the end of the day it doesn’t matter. America is going to live the way America felt it should be lived. As we see what happens today, if the tables were reversed and 100 black men stole s – out of the Capitol building, vandalizing stuff, would blood flow? Would faces be beaten? I think so.
Blood spilled and people were beaten for just protesting and people looting different businesses. We are talking about the state capital here. We’re not talking about Target or Walmart. We are talking about the state capital. If America allows it but we don’t allow people to be upset by a guy [white cop] kneeling on someone’s neck [George Floyd], it just shows what America really is.
Where should NBA players go from here with the social justice movement this season?
I cannot speak for everyone. I can only speak for myself. I just think with the way the world is moving, I just think we all have to come together. We are 450 [players] and when 450 are strong, we are more powerful than everyone thinks. …
We are much more powerful than they think. I learned a lot from LeBron [James] and how it migrated and moved on and off the ground. He is a huge inspiration with the way he uses his influence to open doors and his power. He’s just a guy. Four hundred and fifty can be really strong if we come together.
We just have to keep fighting the good fight. Today shows us where we really are in this country. I think the last couple of days shows us what we can do if we get together. I tip my hat to everyone who went to vote. I tip my hat to all those who still walk the streets fighting this fight. And it’s for everyone.