Malcolm Miller: Bigger than Basketball

by Malcolm Miller

I want to tell you about my father, Robert Miller. I think about him a lot right now. 

Him and my mom, Sheila, raised me and my siblings in Gaithersburg, Maryland. My dad was one of the first Black managers in his job with AT&T. He was always open with me about what that was like. 

He had to deal with the problems of being that exceptional Black guy in the workforce, where people would wonder if he was there for affirmative action. Then he had to juxtapose living that life with his friends back home who were mostly Black and not in the most well-off neighbourhood. Balancing those lifestyles and understanding that, I feel like I learned a lot from that. 

That’s a difficult thing, you know? To be a different person at work than the person you are at home because you have to live life differently for them to accept you. 

Before we all packed up and came to the bubble, I was with my dad at protests. He’s in his 70s and he’s lived and gone through a bunch of this stuff and has fought against it his whole life. When I was just a baby, he took part in the Million Man March. I was there with him this time and we were fighting, marching, all of that just for the equality that he still hasn’t seen in his life.

That's frustrating and it’s annoying. It's frustrating that this is something that we still have to deal with in his lifetime, in my lifetime, knowing that his father had to deal with it. Regardless of how well-off he tried to make our family, there are still problems that arise where I have to face oppression as a Black man today. 

I remember my parents telling me as a kid to not wear my hood up, to address people properly, things like that. There’s this understanding that you have to go the extra mile as a Black man just to be on par. At what point are we going to finally get to a spot in our world where we don’t have to tell someone they need to be extra to be equal, just based on the colour of their skin? 

That’s what’s constantly been on my mind this entire time in the bubble, is the racial inequalities that exist in the world. I’m always wondering what we can do as players and what we can do as a world to adjust and fix these problems and get more people to acknowledge them? 

***

The last week has been an emotional rollercoaster, to say the least. Between what’s been going on in the world and how people are feeling in the bubble, it’s understandable that there’s been a lot of chaos and a lot of outrage across the board. 

The shooting of Jacob Blake, that just made us feel like we weren’t doing enough, like basketball has just been a distraction and that we haven’t been using our platform enough. We had guys separated into two categories where they felt like playing was a distraction and we’re not beating the real problems. Then you had guys that felt like playing here and us being in front of these cameras is the proper way to use our platform and we just have to do it better. 

Both sides, I feel are right. There’s no clear cut way to get to what feels like an almost unreachable objective of ending racial inequality in the world.

I feel like there's so much passion and so much anger, emotions and fear that we want to get something done right now. We want to see some type of change right now to say that because we're here in the bubble, because we have this power, we have this platform, that we're making a difference and whatever momentum we have isn't going to be lost. 

When we stopped playing last week, I was wondering what the next step in our plan was. I didn’t realize the impact our decision had on the outside world. 

It wasn't until I actually spoke to some friends that were not in the bubble, they were saying how loud the impact was. How us making decisions as players to say, ‘No, we're done for now, we need to recollect and get our minds right because stuff’s not working how we want to and we have the power to change that.’ That's when I started to realize. When baseball and tennis and the other sports stopped playing along with us, I realized that we still do have an impact in here and we can create change and we do have power. 

To me, one of the biggest things that needs to come out of this is how important elections are. 

Me personally, I don't think you could be for Black Lives Matter, social equity, equality and all of those foundations of understanding and then also vote for someone like Trump, who is clearly opposed to that. I don't feel like that has the best implications for us as a people, us as a nation and us as a Black community. I personally can't separate those things. I think this election is very important. 

I say that with the understanding that just the presidential election isn't enough to change those things. 

It's the lobbying dollars, it's the primary elections. It’s contact with governors and elected officials to push our ideas of equality, push these things that we believe are acceptable and also voting to put those people in places beyond just the presidency.

I’m 27 now and I feel a lot more politically engaged than I did even four years ago. That’s because of learning, more understanding, more education. People like to say shut up and dribble or whatever, or that's politics, I don't want to talk about politics. Well, politics is everything. Politics is everywhere. You want to talk about education and getting your children a better educational background, educational foundation. There's politics behind that. There are individuals who could hurt your son or daughter's chances to get into the right school, learn the right thing and progress further in life. There’s politics in everything. It’s about putting the right people in the right positions that have you and your community's best interest -- and globally everyone's best interest -- in mind. Right now I feel like the people in those roles don't have the average human beings’ interests in mind. 

***

I’ll admit, it’s been strange getting back on the court this week. 

It’s almost like you’re putting on two different hats, you know? We have this talent, we have this skill, we signed up to play. This is our choice to come down here and play. So me personally, I'm going to see that decision through, because that was my word. That's the choice I made. 

At the same time, everyone's always talking about how basketball is temporary, the money from basketball is temporary. I think guys are really trying to figure out their legacy and what they want to be known for and what they can put their stamp on in this moment. 

The cliche term is bigger than basketball, but everyone feels that. Everything that's going on in the world, it's much bigger than basketball. It's much bigger than this moment. It's the culmination of a bunch of injustices that brought us to this point and we feel like we need to fight.

Maybe professional basketball players shouldn’t have to be the ones stepping up to lead and demand this kind of change, but it is what it is.

We’re doing our best to balance basketball and social activism. It’s easy to understand how a lot of guys’ hearts get mixed up in what they want today. I feel like we saw that with the Bucks when they decided right before the game that they weren’t going to play. They’re at no fault for that because we’re all human, we all have our emotions and we have the things that we’re fighting for. We’re also employees and we’re also people fighting for our families to have the best chance to eat, and for our children and our grandchildren and so forth. 

I don't feel frustration in feeling the need to step up because that’s kind of how it’s always been. The Black leaders that rise up to the top that are expected to carry everyone forward. At the same time, should they be the only ones? No, it needs to be a whole group collective effort, not just the Black athlete, not just us, but everybody. I wouldn't say it’s frustrating, but it's known territory where we know what we can expect and what we need to do. 

We're a bunch of athletes and human beings who care. So where are all the other ones that are like us? All of the other people in positions of power, everyone’s looking for us to do it. We’re fine with doing it because we know if we don’t do it, who else is? 

I learned from the most important man in my life that sometimes you have to wear two hats. I’m tired of it, but I’m never going to give up. 

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