In a multi-part series, the Bay Area News Group will be discussing racial justice in America with former Warriors players from the last six decades.
Jamaal Wilkes supports the police, up to a point.
The former Golden State Warriors forward said he’s proud to be an American and wants law and order while at the same time seeing the need for change in the wake of demonstrations after the May 25 killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer.
“I’m not an activist. I’m not in the guts of the stuff, but we need some kind of reform with the police department (while) recognizing that the majority are good police,” Wilkes said in a recent conversation with the Bay Area News Group’s Wes Goldberg. “And they are probably as sick and embarrassed and disgusted with the Floyd incident as most of the country is.”
Wilkes, 67, played three seasons with the Warriors and was the NBA’s Rookie of the Year when Golden State won the NBA title in 1974-75. He is the third subject in Goldberg’s “Locked On” podcast.
A 15-year veteran, Wilkes went on to win three more championship rings with the Los Angeles Lakers. Nicknamed “Silk,” Wilkes played in the shadow of Bill Walton at UCLA, Rick Barry with the Warriors and Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar with the Lakers. He averaged 17.7 points per game for his career and his all-around game was so solid UCLA coach John Wooden would invoke Wilkes name when asked to describe the ideal basketball player.
“I would have the player be a good student, polite, courteous, a good team player, a good defensive player and rebounder, a good inside player and outside shooter. Why not just take Jamaal Wilkes and let it go at that,” Wooden said.
Wilkes, a Berkeley native whose sons Omar and Jordan both played at Cal, discussed the Black Lives Matter movement and social injustice with Goldberg. Here are some or his thoughts, edited for clarity and brevity:
The Floyd murder during the COVID-19 pandemic
“On one hand, it was very shocking and disturbing. On the other hand, it’s nothing new . . . it was unbelievable. It was horrible and no one could deny it because there was footage. That, along there being no sports, brought it to a head. I think that all lives matter, of course, but it’s only black lives that are being murdered. We can no longer tip-toe or ignore the elephant in the room, which is systemic racism, white privilege.”
His own experience with police
“I actually had an incident in 1992 in L.A. (that was) racial profiling. They stopped me. I was leaving an office. I was dressed in a coat and tie. I’ve been a big supporter of police over the years. But when they pulled me over that day, they didn’t care if I was Jamaal Wilkes or John Henry. I saw a different side. It was very intimidating, very unnerving. Very dehumanizing. I saw where if I didn’t have my wits about me in dealing with people in situations, things could have gotten crazy real fast.”
Why the police stopped him
“They said my license plate was about to expire and I looked at ’em like, `Well, its not expried’ and they handcuffed me and it was pretty intimidating. After about 15 or 20 minutes, they let me go . . . I was terrified.” Jamaal Wilkes (41) was the NBA Rookie of the Year for the champion Warriors in 1974-75. File photo
The unique nature of the protest
“We’re right in the middle of a global pandemic, so it’s kind of a double whammy. Then we’ve got a president who can be very entertaining or distracting depending on how you look at it. It’s a unique time in our country’s history. And we saw eight-minutes plus caught on video.”
Today’s youth and their outlook
“I grew up when the Civil Rights bill was passed, when the voting rights bill was passed. I remember how it felt to be on the outside of America, not to be that way, but to feel that way sometimes. These young people today, they grew up with President Barack Obama. It’s a different consciousness now, but the issues are still blatant and rearing their ugly head occasionally and we need to address it.”
How the NBA and professonal sports can play a role
“The NBA is a business. It’s not a non-profit. So hopefully these guys will get back to work sooner rather than later. But I think they can support, No. 1, voter registration, getting involved. I would like to see (Colin) Kaepernick get an opportunity in the NFL as a symbolic gesture.”
If returning to play would dilute the message of the protest
“They have to resume their season as soon as they can. First and foremost, it’s their job. That’s what they do. I don’t know if the NBA per se has to do anything because I think they’ve been the most progressive sports league that I’m aware of. But what the NBA does best is play basketball. That’s what they need to get back to.”