Jacque Vaughn looked at his basketball team and saw John Lewis’ impact and legacy.
He asked Jeremiah Martin, “How old are you?”
He asked Chris Chiozza, “How old are you?”
He asked Jarrett Allen, “How old are you?
Rep. John Lewis, a three-decade Congressman, Freedom Rider, civil rights icon who endured a bloody beating walking across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma in the battle for freedom, passed away Friday at the age of 80. At just 23 years old, roughly the same age as Martin, Chiozza and Allen, he spoke at the March on Washington in 1963, the youngest speaker of that historic challenge for America to live up to its ideals.
“It’s just an incredible feat to give your life to something that you might not reap the rewards for,” said Vaughn. “Maybe the generation behind you, the two generations behind you might reap the rewards. It’s the ultimate sacrifice in unselfishness.”
As the Nets gathered together at practice on Saturday, Vaughn shared a video with the team of Lewis looking back on, and delivering, that speech in Washington, D.C.
“We lost an icon,” said Vaughn. “I'm speaking for the organization, extremely pleased we were able to just enlighten and educate our guys on a human being that dedicated his life for the majority of others and for the social well-being of all humans. For our crew to take a look and realize that at 23 years old he was in front of hundreds of thousands of people delivering a speech and walking on the Edmonds Pettus Bridge and walking next to Dr. King many times. At the age of 23 when we have guys who are 22 and 24 years old on our roster and get the opportunity and the luxury of playing basketball for a living. So an ideal time for us to lean into gratitude and lean into joy and to our life to commemorate a guy who stood for a lot of human beings.”
“I can't even imagine going up in front of my classroom and doing that,” said Allen. “And he's doing that to a national movement, a worldwide movement. And it just made me grateful that I'm in this position where I can play basketball and do what I love instead of having to go out and fight for my freedom.”
Lewis’ fight is not over. It was just a month ago that Allen marched across the Brooklyn Bridge, one of several Nets who joined in peaceful protests that followed the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
Vaughn was a few years younger than Allen when riots erupted in his hometown of Los Angeles following the acquittal of police officers in the Rodney King beating. Over the last two months, he’s spoken about conversations he’s had with his own teenage sons as protest movements have grown. As a Black coach in the NBA, he feels a similar responsibility.
“Extreme amount of appreciation for the position that I'm in,” said Vaughn. “The ability to represent my family, represent the organization, to stand proudly in front of the world as they watch the game of basketball and be an example of someone who understands the human dynamic and stands for all human beings and this is a time in our world where providing gratitude and grace and so not expecting our players to be perfect but being accountable and demanding. And it fits with where we are in the world where it won't be perfect, but when we put ourselves in a position to open up and be vulnerable and accept difference so we can realize the positives and importance in all human beings. So much of a time in our life where we need to lean into that area.”