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Black History Month

Champions unite: Tommie Smith pays the Warriors a visit

The NBA champs are honoring the iconic track star who protested in 1968

OAKLAND, Calif. — More than 50 years ago, Tommie Smith extended his black-fisted glove to the heavens during the playing of “The Star-Spangled Banner” at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City. On Tuesday, the iconic track and field star talked about his unforgettable stand with the NBA champion Golden State Warriors.

“It’s kind of sad, and I might be wrong, but from my eyes and my point of view he doesn’t get the credit he deserves for what he has done for African-American athletes,” Warriors center DeMarcus Cousins told The Undefeated.

On Oct. 16, 1968, Smith and teammate John Carlos won medals in the 200-meter dash; Smith won gold, while Carlos took home bronze. During the medal ceremony, both stared downward from the podium with fists raised for the national anthem — a silent protest during the end of the civil rights movement in America. The two African-American runners were joined by Australian silver medalist Peter Norman, and they all wore human rights badges. With the whole world watching, it was arguably the boldest statement in Olympic history.

Smith and Carlos were suspended from Team USA and kicked out of the Olympic Village. The two Olympians and their family members received death threats once they returned to the States.

Olympic Medalists Giving Black Power Sign

Tommie Smith and John Carlos, gold and bronze medalists, respectively, in the 200-meter run at the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City, engage in a protest against unfair treatment of blacks in the United States. Australian silver medalist Peter Norman is at left. (Photo by Bettman Archive)

On Tuesday, the Warriors watched a video of Smith’s story at their practice facility and listened to him speak about his experience. Smith also told the story of the late Norman, who was blackballed in Australia and not sent to the 1972 Munich Games despite qualifying 13 times and being ranked fifth in the world in the 200 meters.

“My message was about perseverance,” Smith told The Undefeated. “Do not ‘shut up and dribble,’ but understand what you are doing.”

A source said Warriors players asked Smith questions, including several by a very intrigued Andre Iguodala and one by Warriors All-Star Stephen Curry, who asked Smith about being banned from USA Track & Field while at the top of his game.

Cousins described Smith’s visit as “incredible” and said he felt a connection with him.

“I feel like we might be related, the way with his demeanor, the way he carries himself and the way he speaks,” Cousins said. “The realness about him. I like that a lot about him.

“He’s paved the way for a lot of athletes like myself. He’s definitely a guy I consider iconic. … He basically said to ‘stand for something or fall for anything.’ He encouraged us to use our platform, no matter how big it is. As long as you have one, you could use it. It’s obvious he used his.”

Kerr called the meeting with Smith “a really special day.”

“There were little details of the story that I didn’t know,” Kerr said. “It was fun to see the interaction between the group. Tommie is also really funny, a great storyteller.”

Smith’s presentation with the Warriors lasted about 30 minutes. Warriors assistant coach Ron Adams, who played basketball against Smith in high school, also talked about their longtime friendship and his respect for Smith.

Afterward, Smith went on the floor to take a couple of shots and pass the ball to Warriors players during shooting drills.

“I even got to pass Steph the ball,” Smith said. “He missed the shot, but it was probably because of my bad pass.”

Smith’s wife, Delois, also filmed Curry and forward Draymond Green giving a message of encouragement to their 12-year-old granddaughter Daniel Singley, who plays on her junior high basketball team in Ontario, California.

The Warriors are joining the NBA’s 29 other teams in celebrating Black History Month in February. On Wednesday, the Warriors will celebrate Smith when they play the San Antonio Spurs. Smith was a track and football star locally at San Jose State.

Smith has been making the speaking rounds in recent days, with stops at Virginia Tech, Columbia University, the Super Bowl and a middle school in his hometown of Atlanta before coming to the Bay Area.

“They wanted to know about Mexico in ’68 and why it happened, the Olympic Project for Human Rights and what was that,” Smith said of the Warriors. “The biggest part of today was how I lived yesterday.”

Marc J. Spears is the senior NBA writer for Andscape. He used to be able to dunk on you, but he hasn’t been able to in years and his knees still hurt.