5 Things To Know About The Activism Of Chicago Bulls Legend Craig Hodges

Written by Ann Brown
Five things to know about the activism of Chicago Bulls legend Craig Hodges that led him to be blackballed by the NBA back in 1992. Philadelphia 76ers Andrew Toney, left, drives past Milwaukee Bucks Craig Hodges during second half NBA playoff action, Sunday, May 6, 1985, Philadelphia, Pa. The 76ers won 121-112, to notch a four-game sweep of the series. (AP Photo/Rusty Kennedy)

Before Colin Kaepernick, there was another prominent social activist in pro sports. NBA player Craig Hodges stood up for what he believed and protested what he felt was wrong. 

His NBA career was prematurely cut short. Hodges launched his pro career with the San Diego Clippers in 1982 and it ended just 10 years later when he was released by the Chicago Bulls.

A two-time champion with the Chicago Bulls, Hodges, now 59, was considered one of the game’s best shooters. By the age of 32, he was out of the league and claimed he’d been blackballed due to his activism and outspokenness on issues outside basketball.

Perhaps he was ousted because his activism was catching on as he worked to raise awareness of inequality.

 “Hodges pursued several other means to shed light on injustice. He tried to convince his teammates—and members of the opposing Los Angeles Lakers — to boycott Game 1 of the 1991 Finals, so as to emphasize the lack of Black NBA owners and executives,” Slam Online reported.

When the championship-winning Bulls visited the White House, Hodges donned a dashiki and delivered an eight-page letter to the staff of President George H.W. Bush, focusing on discrimination in America and encouraging the administration to do more for Black communities. 

Looking back on his life and career, Hodges told Slam Online in 2019, “You have a chance in this life to make choices. The choice that I made was I wanted to be on the right side of history. When people are oppressed, somebody has to stand up.” 

In 2017, Hodges released a book about his life entitled, “Longshot: The Triumphs and Struggles of an NBA Freedom Fighter.”

Here are five things you should know about the activism of Chicago Bulls legend Craig Hodges.

Student protester

When Hodges was a student from 1978 to 1982 at Long Beach State University, a friend of his was murdered. Ron Settles, a running back on the school’s football team, had been arrested for speeding in June 1981. The morning after his arrest he was found severely beaten and hanging in his jail cell. According to the police, it was a suicide, but an autopsy revealed Settles had been choked to death. 

His death sparked protests by the student body. Hodges participated.

“It was something that we had to have a firsthand approach on, not a second,” Hodges said. “We can’t be sitting around, watching. We have to put our lives into the movement if we want it to sustain itself and to get to the point where we get solutions as opposed to continuing to have conflicts about the same issue.”

Unsigned, but not broken

After the 1991-92 season and coming off his second straight championship, Hodges went unsigned. No team would return his calls or offer him a tryout. This happened in the wake of his actions at the White House during the summer of 1991 — a moment that highlighted his reputation for being outspoken, Slam Online reported.

Dear Mr. President

Hodges’ controversial letter to President Bush spoke of the need to right the wrongs against African Americans. 

“The purpose of this note is to speak on behalf of the poor people, Native Americans, homeless and, most specifically, the African Americans, who are not able to come to this great edifice and meet the leader of the nation where they live,” Hodges wrote to the president. “This letter is not begging for anything, but 300 years of free slave labor has left the African American community destroyed. It is time for a comprehensive plan for change. Hopefully, this letter will help become a boost in the unification of inner-city youth and these issues will be brought to the forefront of the domestic agenda.”

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Sue ’em

When he could not get signed to a team in 1992, Hodges filed a federal lawsuit. Four years later in 1996, he charged the NBA with racial discrimination and asserted that “the owners and operators of the 29 NBA member franchises have participated as co-conspirators” in “blackballing” him “because of his outspoken political nature as an African-American man.” The lawsuit was dismissed. The judge ruled that the statute of limitations, in this case, was only two years.

Talking Black history with Michael Jordan

When he was with the Bulls, Hodges said he attempted to talk about Black history and social action with Michael Jordan in 1988. It didn’t go as planned.

“He’s a great businessman, and he understood that him taking a political stance could hamper his economics,” Hodges told WBUR. “And I’m not one to judge anybody on that, but I understand the importance of the economic tie to Nike, to the Black community, to young men, to death, to murder of people who are killing people over your gym shoe and the like. So, to me, when we’re talking on issues concerning our history, you weren’t astute.”

Hodges said he wanted Jordan to leave Nike and launch his own company that would provide jobs in sneaker production and sales to folks in Chicago.