Craig Hodges had a nice 10-year NBA career in which he won two championships with the Chicago Bulls and averaged 8.5 points per game (while shooting 46.1 percent from the field and 40.0 percent from three-point range). He was a three-time winner of the NBA’s Three-Point Contest, and he led the NBA in three-point percentage in three seasons.
However, Hodges’ NBA career came to a controversial end after the 1991-92 season. Coming off back-to-back championships, he was waived by the Bulls and he never played in the NBA again (despite being only 32 years old and one of the league’s best shooters).
Hodges is an activist who wore a dashiki during the Bulls’ visit to the White House and gave an eight-page letter to George H.W. Bush containing his thoughts on social issues. He was also critical of Michael Jordan and other players for not using their platform to affect change. He believes he was blackballed due to his activism and he filed a federal lawsuit against the NBA, but it was dismissed since the statute of limitations had passed.
HoopsHype caught up with Hodges to discuss his NBA career, his experience playing with Jordan, his thoughts on “The Last Dance,” his belief that he was blackballed and more.
Thanks for taking time to do this. How are you?
Craig Hodges: I’m doing fine, man. I want to tell all your readers: I hope everybody is doing well during this crazy time and being careful.
Absolutely. Let’s start with “The Last Dance.” I was surprised that you weren’t interviewed in the documentary. They interviewed 106 people and…
CH: Wow! (laughs)
Yeah, 106 people! Did it bother you that you weren’t interviewed?
CH: Woowww… (laughs) That’s interesting, man. I thank God for waking up this morning and being in a peaceful state of being, knowing where we are historically. When I watch “The Last Dance,” I do it from a critical standpoint as far as having somewhat of an intimate understanding of the locker room and the travel and the workouts and all of the above. But it’s interesting, and you can hear it in my voice that it’s funny to me that I wasn’t interviewed… But, at the same time, it’s not so funny because I understand the impact of the things that I felt we could be doing with our stardom. And a lot of people took that to mean that I was dissing MJ, but that ain’t it at all. I just say, “To whom much is given, much is required.”
Have you gotten an explanation from the filmmakers about why you weren’t interviewed?
CH: Nah, man. Not at all; they don’t got to talk to little ‘ol me! (laughs) And this is the cold part: When you look at America, when you become a billionaire, you become insulated to a degree. So, hey man, I don’t expect them [to explain anything]. If they didn’t want me to be a part of it, they didn’t want to be a part of it. Me not being a part of it, there has to be some reasoning behind it. I would love to know what their reasoning is. But I kind of know what it is from a standpoint that I’ve never not spoken on behalf of people. I’ve never not spoken up about human rights. And it’s not just about black people; it’s about a human-rights condition that we can have an impact on because we were champions at that time in a city like Chicago. During the time that we were winning championships, there were 900 murders [annually], man. Somebody has to speak to that. … In this city, you had two of the brightest stars in the history of African people on the planet Earth – Michael Jordan and Oprah Winfrey – and look at our condition in Chicago. And where are they at now?
You were upset about a few comments that Jordan has made in this documentary. You criticized his “cocaine circus” quote since those men now have children and grandchildren who are watching this and it puts those guys in a tough position. What have you thought of the documentary and Jordan’s comments?
CH: Well, when I look at MJ, he’s a product of his success. Sometimes, that success can be a prison for you. I look at it in a couple lights, man. I feel somewhat empathy for him, to some degree, because of the fact that you are in a prison – in two prisons actually. America was a prison for black people, and now you’ve been incarcerated through capitalism on a whole different level. So it’s cool for the entertainment value of it, but I think it’s been somewhat divisive as far as in line with what we need right now as both the people and the world.
Two people from Jordan’s camp (Curtis Polk and Estee Portnoy) are executive producers on “The Last Dance,” which may be why it paints a positive portrait of Jordan. Even the part about how hard he was on his teammates made it seem like it was just great, necessary leadership. Do you think this documentary is going very easy on Jordan?
CH: When you’re in a cooperative situation at work, it’s like a pyramid, brother; he who has the most is on top. A lot of people don’t want to say anything. Nobody would stand up to him, but for me, I always felt a balance where I didn’t have to try to kowtow to MJ or try to hang out (or have to hang out) because I was on my studies, man. I’m looking at solutions for downtrodden people. So, a lot of things as far as partying and going out and hanging and gambling and all that, I didn’t do that. I was cordial, I’m respectful. Still, to this day, I’m respectful. I just want to know why some of the things are going on and why you feel like, at this point in your life, you have to throw your teammates under the bus? You know what I’m saying? I understand how you feel like you have to motivate people, but is that your responsibility? I was in those circles at the time. When you have athletes who want to be overbearing, oftentimes that overbearing is because they have some insecurities of their own.
In a different interview, you said it bothered you that MJ called Scottie Pippen “selfish” and blamed Horace Grant for “The Jordan Rules” leaks. What do you make of Jordan taking some shots at his teammates?
CH: Well, once again, I feel like we’ve sacrificed. All the people who played with MJ have sacrificed shots. If you look at the year that he wasn’t there, everybody played and they got to a certain level. They didn’t get over the hump, but they were able to play together and with chemistry that was a lot mellower. When I was young in the league, you would look over your shoulder because you would think the superstar wasn’t pleased with your performance and stuff. And then, as you get older in the league, you look at it and you realize that you have your own personal sovereignty within this thing and you just come and play. When I look at it, a lot of times we can highlight superstars because they have a certain drive that none of us – no other humans – have. But come on, man; it gets to be overbearing and just to a point where you just harp on people because that’s the weak link that you find that you can harp on.
What was Jordan like as a teammate? What were your interactions like on a daily basis?
CH: Well, you come to practice, do your thing people and go home. I had two young sons at the time and a wife, so I have family issues to take care of after games and after practices. A lot of times, because we spend so much concentrated time together, people on the outside looking in at teams think people hang out all the time together. But we’re together all the time within our work space – whether it be on the road, whether it be traveling – [so] you want to get away from people. From that standpoint, everybody was cool. We had great chemistry as a team. Everybody understood the pecking order on the public side of things, but everybody understood the pecking order within the context of our privacy within the team and within practice sessions and within the locker room. So there was a big difference in what went on privately when we were in sessions as opposed to what people saw publicly.
You spoke with MJ and Magic Johnson about boycotting Game 1 of the 1991 NBA Finals. In your book “Longshot: The Triumphs and Struggles of an NBA Freedom Fighter,” you wrote that you wanted to “stand in solidarity with the black community while calling out racism and economic inequality in the NBA, where there were no black owners and almost no black coaches.” How did MJ and Magic react to your idea?
CH: They gave it a very cursory look, to say the least. (laughs) Where I was, in the pecking order of the NBA, I didn’t carry that type of weight. We were considered “Michael and the Jordanaires.” When I brought it to Michael, he was like, “Man, that’s kind of extreme, Hodge…” And that was basically it. Same thing with Magic. For me, I’m looking back at 1963 and the history of the NBA and what Jerry West and Elgin Baylor were able to do during that All-Star Weekend; they said they weren’t going to play and our Players’ Union was formed out of that. So, there was precedent of us sitting down and being able to make some type of progress… But they felt that it was a bit too extreme to the point where it was just a cursory look over, not even really a conversation on the critical standpoints. And I understand where they were coming from because they were the two icons in the game at the time and neither one of them, at that point, was really politically active. Well, I’m not going to say “politically active,” I think oftentimes we get that term involved and the politics of it. But I think it’s just the human spirit of it and the human rights spirit of it.
You were one of the only players speaking out about social issues, but you couldn’t have been the only one who was passionate about these topics or thinking about this stuff. Was it frustrating that others weren’t willing to speak out and join you?
CH: When I’m on the bus, when I’m on the plane, everybody is in on the conversation. It ain’t just me talking in the wind by myself. There were responses and positions taken, but none of the positions would be taken publicly. They kept them behind closed doors.
You say that you were blackballed in the NBA after being waived by the Bulls following the 1991-92 season.
CH: For all of those who don’t know, go and look at the history of it, man. If you’re a three-point shooter and you win the Three-Point Contest, you are considered the best shooter on the planet. Not one of the best, you are the best. So I was the best three years running. Then, go back and look at the statistics. Ain’t nobody ever led the NBA in three-point percentage three times! I did that also. So when you look at just flat-out shooting the ball, nobody did it better. But I was a role player, so I let MJ shoot 30 times. You feel me? … The head of the Players’ Union, Charles Grantham told me, and I quote, “Craig, we have to find you an agent that a team owes a favor, so they will know that you’re not a bad guy.” I was “a bad guy” because I spoke to issues that I wasn’t supposed to speak about.
My mother, who was the secretary of the Civil Rights Organization coming up, put it on my mind early: not self-service, community service. You’re only as strong as your community; I was taught that at a young age. I was taught “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” That’s the golden rule, right? No, the real golden rule is “he who has the gold rules,” so thus we fall under this Michael Jordan hypnotic trance that was made in the laboratory.
Even today, there’s only one majority owner who’s African American (Jordan) and only eight head coaches who are African American. What do you think the league should do to address that?
CH: Man, the league will do what the league wants to do. Because the league is what it is, man. The league is not about human rights, okay? If the league was about human rights, then why is it allowed for the shoe companies to have sweatshops? Why isn’t the NBA on the forefront of human rights and being able to manufacture products in America that can hire American? So, don’t give me this “woke” garbage. I’m done with them talking about how they’re “woke.” All they’ve been doing is putting people in a trance state in order to make money. They want to talk all that garbage about being “woke,” but it’s ridiculous. The NBA is gonna do what the NBA wants to do. Consider this: At the time when I was being blackballed and Mahmoud [Abdul-Rauf] was getting blackballed, Donald Sterling was a racist owner dominated by a racist group of Board of Governors. I’m calling it for what it is. Because if you’re gonna sit there with a racist for over 20 years, you are a racist. Closeted or public, you are racist.
And that’s the problem with all of the major league sports. All of them are racist to the core, because they are built on racism. The foundation of this country is racism. And don’t nobody want to go to the foundation that we have never received what we were supposed to see reparation wise, so the structure can not go up and be strong because it’s built on weakness. When the Founding Fathers said, “We are all created equal,” my people were getting them tea and crumpets, being slaves. And we never rectified that. So, now we have a slave on TV, represented as an African American. We go from “slave” to “negro” to “nigga” to “African American.” What are ya’ll going to call it? This is ridiculous, man, where we are today. I was taught that you care about people. It’s about people, it ain’t about money.
Given the similarities between you and Colin Kaepernick, have you ever gotten a chance to talk with Colin or his camp?
CH: I’ve talked to his camp, but I’ve never had a chance to talk to the brother personally. Every time, I send out kudos to him because I know the struggle of knowing that you’re capable of doing something and having the God-given talent, but you have an organization that won’t allow you to be at your highest level [and] demonstrate and perform, but also [not allow you] to inspire the next generation of student athletes. That’s the part of this that’s so sad. It’s evilness. Why? It’s all messed up, man. And, like I said, sports is just another thread of civilization, so why should I expect any difference for my brothers?
Today’s NBA players seem to be more outspoken. LeBron James comes to mind as someone who uses his platform to discuss social issues and affect change. How do you feel about the way today’s players use their platforms?
CH: I love it, man. Everything is evolving, man. You look at the evolution of technology and, now, we have the social-media age. And through social media, you can build an immediate support base even before you go out and make yourself public on what your position may be, so you have a groundswell of support. These young brothers and sisters, I give them kudos. They’ve been standing [up for] human rights issues. And it needs to be spoken about that you don’t live in a vacuum; just because you’re a soccer player, baseball player or basketball player, that doesn’t mean that you don’t feel these issues that hit home to you. And not being able to speak about them because I’m under contract, that’s not human, man.