The NBA Player Whose Family Marched With MLK
This article was in today's WSJ. Hopefully the Journal will forgive me for copying it. 🤔
Wow. It is awesome that we got to see Malcolm play basketball here. Remember how he would shut down the other team's best offensive player and then on the other end of the court hit clutch shot after clutch shot? He seemed to be playing a different game than the other nine guys on the court. I'm getting goose bumps thinking of those times. I think we had a sense while he was here that he was something special off the court, too. Staying a fifth year and getting his masters at Batton. Not your typical basketball player's graduate degree.
It is very cool that Chris Long and Malcolm are both Wahoos. They are role models for me when it comes to making a difference in the world.
This story doesn't address Malcolm's nickname when he was growing up. It is a nickname that speaks volumes of him as a person. The nickname? Moses - yeah, as in the Bible.
Here's the WSJ article:
Indiana Pacers guard Malcolm Brogdon’s grandfather was a leader in the civil-rights movement. Now he’s finding his own voice.
Malcolm Brogdon had a megaphone in his hand and family history on his mind.
It was May 30 in his native Atlanta, and hundreds were listening to Brogdon address the fury that had swept America since the death of George Floyd. There were other NBA players at this peaceful demonstration, and there would be more athletes at more protests in the days to come. But he told the crowd something perhaps no one else in professional sports could have said.
“I got a grandfather that marched next to Dr. King,” Brogdon said. “He would be proud to see us all here.”
John Hurst Adams was born and raised in the Deep South, worked alongside Martin Luther King Jr. and preached in black churches across the U.S. He was known as a moral force of the civil-rights movement. Brogdon also knew him as Poppo. “It dawned on me in high school that my grandfather had an amazing legacy,” the Indiana Pacers guard said in an interview. “It didn’t dawn on me until college and until I got to the NBA quite how amazing he was.”
Brogdon’s ancestors were not merely participants in the demonstrations that defined their generations. They were the leaders. And never has the wisdom of Adams, who died two years ago, resonated so much with his grandson.
“Malcolm is part of a long lineage of activists who, for over a century, have been committed to the cause of justice and equality in this country,” said Bobby Donaldson, a University of South Carolina historian and the director of the school’s Center for Civil Rights History and Research.
Eugene Avery Adams, Brogdon’s great-grandfather, was an AME Church minister, the president of his local NAACP chapter and a vocal crusader against police brutality. John Hurst Adams, his grandfather, was a bishop and brilliant strategist who implemented freedom patrols to hold police officers accountable for their behavior.
Brogdon is embracing his deeply personal connection to their struggle in the wake of another black man’s death at the knee of a white police officer.
“I think Malcolm is finding his voice right now,” said his mother, Jann Adams, a Morehouse College professor, who named her son after Malcolm X. Few people in sports were as uniquely prepared for this moment. He was raised around the campus of a historically black college. He was exposed from a young age to conversations about race in America. He was in middle school when he participated in a re-enactment of the 1965 march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala.
That was his first march. This was his second.
“Everyone is not comfortable demonstrating and protesting and marching,” Brogdon said. “For me, it’s something in my blood.”
He continued: “I was raised to voice what I believe when the time is appropriate—especially if it can help your family, if it can help your community, if it can help other people, those less fortunate who don’t have a voice or a platform, to shed light and give them visibility. You have a duty to speak out.” The Brogdon boys didn’t know enough about Adams when they were children to know their grandfather was a giant. But they knew Poppo loved sports. This man who lived through cross burnings at his childhood home would call his grandchildren into his office to discuss another topic: the greatest basketball player of all time.
Brogdon said it was LeBron James. Adams said it was Oscar Robertson.
“Poppo had the last word,” Gino Brogdon, Malcolm’s brother, said at his funeral, “so it was Oscar Robertson.”
Adams respected Robertson’s talent as much as his persistence, resilience and fierce advocacy. That stuck with the future NBA player in his family. “We respect basketball players for their ability on the court,” Malcolm Brogdon said, “but also for what they stand for off the court.”
One of the formative moments of Brogdon’s life happened when he was 16 years old and his grandfather presented him with a binding legal document. His old green Toyota Avalon had been passed down from one Brogdon brother to another. Now it was Malcolm’s turn to get behind the wheel.
But with the car came a contract.
“We were signing on the line to agree how we would conduct ourselves if the police would pull us over,” he said. “We have a duty to our family to come home alive. That would be our goal every time we drove in the car.”
He did get pulled over. He fulfilled his end of the deal.
“I was taught to put my hand on the steering wheel, to turn off the music, to roll down every window of the car, to put your blinkers and emergency hazards on and sit there silently and comply with the officer until he lets you go,” Brogdon said. “And I signed my name to it.” That piece of paper made Jann Adams feel better at the time. She’s no longer sure it protected her sons as much as she wanted to believe.
“If an officer decides to escalate, you can’t expect children to de-escalate,” she said.
“Instead of actually going at the root problem, we continue to try to find a way to exist in a system that isn’t designed to work for us. It was something we did with all three of our sons. But if somebody had wanted to harm them, none of that would’ve helped. I think it was a false comfort.”
Brogdon went to the University of Virginia, stayed an extra year for graduate school and left with a master’s degree in public policy and a future in basketball. But history came rushing back to his college town when white nationalists descended on Charlottesville in 2017 to protest the removal of a statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee. Brogdon used his stature in the community and the pulpit that comes with playing in the NBA to denounce them as domestic terrorists.
It was a painful reminder of a similar event in his grandfather’s life: Adams was among the most outspoken of the local ministers condemning the Confederate flag before it was removed from the South Carolina statehouse, Donaldson said.
Brogdon’s family is so close with Andrew Young, the former Atlanta mayor and U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, that he calls him Uncle Andy. Brogdon celebrated holidays with these lions of another era, and their personal experiences informed his perspective. There was one principle of his grandfather’s that he internalized as he was growing up.
“This idea that you earn your keep on the earth by the good you do,” Jann Adams said. “What are you doing to make the world better, and how are you preparing yourself to contribute?”
They are questions that Brogdon has been trying to answer for himself. The extraordinary unrest of the past month has pushed him to reflect on his grandfather’s contemporaries and study which of their tactics worked and why. “Peaceful civil disobedience,” Brogdon said. “That was the way that struck real change.” Maybe the most effective method of civil disobedience in sports has been Colin Kaepernick’s silent protest before NFL games, and NBA players have been supportive of Kaepernick without kneeling during the national anthem themselves. That might change soon. Brogdon said they are discussing what they should do when the season restarts next month. “I’m not sure what form it will take or what action will be taken,” he said.
But what they pulled off last weekend didn’t require months of planning. It was the brainchild of Boston Celtics forward Jaylen Brown, who texted members of the National Basketball Players Association’s executive committee that he was organizing a march and driving 15 hours to Atlanta. Brogdon was already there.
He soon found himself protesting the same injustices that once stirred his grandparents and sharing a lesson he was taught by someone who had been there before them.
“We have a moment in time,” Brogdon said. “Our kids are going to look back at this and say: You were a part of that.”