Brooklyn Nets Meet Olympic Icon Tommie Smith
The Brooklyn Nets scored their first win of the season in Atlanta. No, not on the court, they lost for the fifth time (all together now… AND COUNTING!) to the Atlanta Hawks. However, they did get an opportunity to meet with one of the most influential athletes in Olympic, no check that, in sports history.
In a show of complete class and decency, Billy King and Lionel Hollins invited 1968 Olympic 200 meter Gold Medalist, Tommie Smith, to speak with the Nets team when they arrived in Atlanta before the game against the Hawks.
In my opinion, there are no sports photos more powerful in the 20th century than the one of Tommie Smith and Olympic teammate, John Carlos, giving the “Black Power” salute at the Mexico City Olympics in 1968. Mr. Smith and Mr. Carlos finished first (Tommie Smith) and third (John Carlos) in the 200 meter dash final. Mr. Smith also marked the first time it was done in less than 20 seconds. Their silent protest on the podium was done in this fashion…
- The two wore black gloves and socks to protest against racism.
- They both wore no shoes to protest against poverty.
- They both wore beads to protest against lynching.
To this day, it remains a symbolic moment in the history of the American Civil Rights Movement.
Now, after making a real sacrifice for the unity of all Americans, Mr. Smith speaks to athletes about giving back and having an impact on others.
He should have an impact on the Nets after reading this quote after he was booed off the medal podium…
“If I win, I am American, not a black American. But if I did something bad, then they would say I’m a Negro. We are black and we are proud of being black. Black America will understand what we did tonight.”
Outside of photographs and some tweets from Mrs. Cindy Westphal, wife of former NBA Head Coach Paul Westphal, this was a private affair.
After reading this article, I recommend everyone to do some research on this iconic event. Only then can anyone really understand what these two men went through because of their actions.
Here’s a few events.
After being booed off the podium for the actions prior, Tommie Smith and John Carlos were forced out of the games by IOC leader at the time, Avery Brundage. The silver medalist, a white Australian named Peter Norman, was alienated by his home country for wearing an Olympic Project for Human Rights badge in solidarity.
At the time, many people including Brundage believed that a political statement had no place in a international forum of the Olympic Games. Brundage suspended Smith and Carlos from the team and had them removed from the Olympic Village.
Avery Brundage did this in spite of the fact that he was the United States Olympic Committee in 1936 when Nazi salutes were allowed. This act was felt on both sides. Some thought the act embarrassed all Americans. Others applauded the men for their bravery in speaking out. When Smith and Carlos returned to the U.S. it was reported that there were threats against them… and their families.
Some of Mr. Smith’s accomplishments include…
- Being drafted by the NFL’s Los Angeles Rams in the ninth round in 1967.
- Playing with the AFL’s Cincinnati Bengals as a wide receiver in 1969.
- Set seven individual world records.
- In 1978, was inducted into the U.S. National Track and Field Hall of Fame.
- In 1996, was inducted into the California Black Sports Hall of Fame.
- In 1999, was named Sportsman of the Millennium by the California Black Sports Hall of Fame.
- In 2000-2001, was presented by the county of Los Angeles and state of Texas with numerous commendations and awards.
With all of the racial unrest in this country, I applaud Billy King and Lionel Hollins for setting this meeting up for the team. Sometimes it is lost on this generation of players how fortunate they are to be able to play in the NBA and enjoy the rights that they have today. Hopefully, it will inspire them to follow Mr. Smith’s example going forward.
I am very aware and knowledgeable of the impact of what these two great men did back in 1968. I personally own a T-shirt with “Heroes” highlighting the top with these two doing the “Black Power” salute and a throwback jersey with their picture on the front and “1968 Mexico City” on the back.
There might not be a win in the won/loss column yet, but the Nets won a small battle in the war on racism in this country…
and gained a fan from Brooklyn’s Finest.