ORLANDO, Fla. -- Monte Morris has a simple, four-letter solution for anyone wondering where to turn at a time of uncertainty and trepidation with what’s going on outside the cocoon of the NBA bubble.
“V-O-T-E” the Denver Nuggets point guard said, running his hand across his chest where those letters are splashed when he and his teammates take the court for the Western Conference finals against the Los Angeles Lakers.
“We’re trying to get our voices out there, to be heard,” Morris said. “The reason we’re playing is to show awareness to the police brutality, social injustice and other issues people are dealing with around the country right now. And we need to vote and encourage people everywhere to vote. The more of the league we get to vote, the better. It starts with us and spreads throughout the community.
“We’re trying to be the living and breathing example in our communities. Just that one little impact, seeing the words 'vote' across our chests, that could change one person’s mind and inspire them to get involved. And ultimately, that’s what it’s all about.”
Morris has a kindred spirit in ex-Nuggets legend and Hall of Famer Alex English. He is joining with others from all over the basketball community to advocate for Hoopers Vote Day to energize voters in the lead up to the Nov. 3 general election.
English, whose No. 2 was retired by Denver, says current and retired players, coaches and others associated with the basketball ecosystem can spread the word on what is easily the most consequential election of his lifetime.
An eight-time All-Star and the 1983 NBA scoring champion, English shared his candid opinions on the tremendous challenges he believes the country is facing right now and in the coming weeks.
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Question: You’ve lived through some critical times in this country’s history. Why do you feel such a sense of urgency right now?
Alex English: This is the most crucial national election in our history because we’ve got a person in the White House who doesn’t mind lying about everything. He’s always changing the narrative to fit him and doesn’t really care about bringing the country together. It’s more about division and it’s an opportunity for young people, they’re protesting, they’re fussing. But the way you can be heard is you get yourself out there and vote. You get other people out there to vote. That’s the way you make a difference in this country. And until we realize and understand that, we’re going to always be protesting and fussing about politics. We’ve got to mobilize. We’ve got to mobilize our old people, our young people and we’ve got to make a difference. We’ve got to grab two or three people and take them with us.
Given the current climate in the country, with the current players being as vocal as they’ve been about the need for social justice, changes to systems throughout our society and voting, does it just make sense that now seems like the right time for all of these forces to come together?
It makes all the sense in the world. Everything has come together for a reason. In the past, we older players, we had to go along pretty much with whatever was given to us. We had a voice but because our players today have been elevated to a different level -- financially as well as status and viewer status -- they get a bigger voice. And they get a bigger voice especially with young people. A lot of them follow the NBA players. And because of the injustices that have been happening in this country in the last … forever, but there’s more focus on it now. It’s important that they not only just talk about it and protest. They’ve got to get out and vote. They’ve got to take action to make things happen. And I am just proud that the NBA and WNBA players today -- LeBron [James] and all the other players in both leagues -- they are staying focused and saying, ‘we may be playing basketball and we may be entertaining you, but we realize that our power is right now.’
You mentioned the NBA and WNBA players and the role they are playing in this movement. Do you think they’ve had an impact beyond just the basketball world?
What the NBA and the WNBA have done is they’ve mobilized athletes all across the spectrum. You think about this: we’ve been trying to get this conversation going for how long? We’ve been trying to get it forever. These players are really focused on it and they’ve made other athletes focus on it.
We’ve got to mobilize our old people, our young people and we’ve got to make a difference. We’ve got to grab two or three people and take them with us."
Players of previous generations have been passionate about these issues, but the climate was different … what was accepted might have been different. Your concerns seem to be rooted in something deeper than just the current unrest of what’s going on right now, something more systemic?
You’ve got these privileged other people being able to live a comfortable life, whether it’s walking down the street, whether it’s going in a bank, whether it’s going in a restaurant, or whether it’s getting a job, a good quality job. They have had the pick of the litter. Where we’ve had to deal with the systemic racism. For instance, let me tell you something: you look at TV, and it’s better now than it was, but they might have one Black to represent just to say we’ve got someone Black there. It’s kind of like the president having the one Black person behind him at his rally, and he can say ‘there’s my Blacks, there’s my Black back there.’ And it’s the same thing across the system, whether it be the movies and entertainment, they think they have one Black person there and they represent everybody. Why can’t a show have three or four Blacks? Why can’t a business have four or five Black people a the top. Why does it have to be that one, that one person they get to represent us? But why does it have to be that way when we know there is so much Black talent and talent of all colors and creeds, I’m talking across the board?
In that respect, the fight from previous eras sounds very much like what folks of this generation are fighting for now when it comes to trying to energize the vote.
Exactly. So, what these young people today are saying is that [the status quo] doesn’t work anymore. We’re not going for that. We’ve got talented people across the board and they’ve got to recognize us. And that’s why I’m so proud of them. I’m so proud of them standing up for social justice and equality and not letting it go. They can’t let it go. It doesn’t mean anything if you don’t get your butt out there and vote.
I know many of the players here in the bubble were conflicted about the idea of playing while they felt their voices and energy might have been needed elsewhere at this critical time. But you’ve supported them here, even showing up at the virtual fan space for a Nuggets game. Did you feel a need to show that support visibly just to make that point?
Absolutely. It is so important, because the one thing the NBA has is an audience. And the audience is across the spectrum. It’s Black, white, women, men, it doesn’t matter. So, we all are forced to see the messages, to hear these young people say, we are tired of this. Literally get your knee off my neck. Because it’s been going on for too long. You’ve had your knee on my grandad, my mom, my uncle. You’ve had your knee on their neck all this time. And we’re tired of it.
And you believe the best way to see things change is through mobilizing the vote for the coming election?
That’s right. It’s plain and simple. People have to get off their butts and vote.
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