George Hill: ‘We’re way more powerful than they think we are’
A conversation with the NBA guard about the Jacob Blake decision and more
“It ain’t crazy. It’s the norm,” said Oklahoma City guard George Hill. “What did you expect? Did you expect anything different? I’m not at all surprised about all of this. I knew this was going to happen.”
When Hill was asked if he was referring to protesters loyal to President Donald Trump who forced their way into the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday or Tuesday’s announcement that prosecutors in Kenosha, Wisconsin, would not file criminal charges against police officers in the August shooting of African American Jacob Blake, he explained to The Undefeated: “I’m referring to all of it.”
On Aug. 26, the then-Milwaukee Bucks guard became a prominent figure in the NBA’s social justice movement when he told head coach Mike Budenholzer and three Black assistant coaches over lunch that he wasn’t playing in a playoff game against the Orlando Magic in protest of the Blake shooting. The Bucks ended up making history by deciding collectively not to play. Hill and then-Bucks teammate Sterling Brown, who had endured police brutality in Milwaukee, spoke on the team’s behalf after the protest was announced.
The NBA ended up postponing all three games that day and no playoff contests took place over a three-day period in protest. The WNBA, MLB, the NHL and tennis star Naomi Osaka also followed with protests in the following days.
“I’m definitely proud of what I did,” Hill said. “I really wasn’t trying to spark anything. I was just doing what I thought was genuinely right. I didn’t know what others may do or what others may think or the consequences that may come from it or the positives that may come from it. I didn’t think about that. I only thought about what I thought was right. What I believe in was what humanity should be and I went for it.”
Hill, who is now with the Thunder after being traded by the Bucks in the offseason, caught up with The Undefeated before playing against the host New Orleans Pelicans on Wednesday.
The NBA three-day protest eventually caused the players to focus on voting. You also returned to Milwaukee in October to join about 50 volunteers from the Milwaukee-based organization Common Ground to encourage people to vote early. How do you reflect back on that?
I stood for that change. For people to feel comfortable in their skin. To feel comfortable speaking the truth and standing for something. To go into these neighborhoods and go door to door and fight with the people of Wisconsin who really cared meant a lot. I talked to young men and young women who never voted in their lives on the importance of it. The importance of them using their voice and getting out and vote was the reason why Wisconsin was overturned this year.
I was very excited not only for myself, but for the state of Wisconsin and the city of Milwaukee and all the other surrounding cities. They saw things like that and they went out and voted. It meant something to them. It just wasn’t an election anymore.
How did you take the ruling in Kenosha on Tuesday that criminal charges would not be filed against the officer who shot Jacob Blake and paralyzed him?
I took it hard at first. But I already prepared for this. I prayed about it and prepared [mentally] for it because I knew it was going to happen where none of those cops would be held accountable for anything. We’ve seen it too many times. It’s like that old record player that is continuous that plays the same song over and over.
I knew. I felt bad for Mr. and Mrs. Blake. I felt bad for Jacob himself. I felt bad that his kids had to see that. You got to continue to live. When things happen, you continue to figure other things out. I will continue to pray for the family, his kids and himself. But I knew justice wouldn’t be served.
When you were in the bubble and you sparked the Bucks’ protest, did you receive any backlash from opposing players for what you and the team did without talking to other teams?
Everybody had mixed emotions. I would never throw anybody out there. I just know everybody didn’t agree on certain things and that is normal. But, I am not the one that is going to say this person did this or this person didn’t agree to this. All I can say is everyone didn’t feel the same way.
How did you take being traded from the Bucks to the Thunder on Nov. 23 after everything you did there on and off the court?
When you do stuff that ruffles feathers and is outside the norm, you got to know there is going to be some backlash with it. I prepared myself that summer for me probably not being there. People thought I was probably crazy for thinking that. But I’m human. It is what it is. We’ve seen that many times.
We saw Colin Kaepernick [kneel] for what he believed and they tried to destroy his life. I was going to accept that with open arms if I wasn’t going to be able to go play for Milwaukee again. No disrespect to them. They did what they thought was right for the organization.
Do you think the Bucks trading you was simply a basketball move or more than that?
We will never know, right? It ain’t me to speak upon that if it is more. If it’s more than basketball, then they will live with that. If it wasn’t … we’ll never know. I’m sure they won’t flat-out come out and say it. So, it doesn’t really matter.
How has it been for you so far in Oklahoma City? Would you like to have an impact off the court there?
No matter how long I am in a city I want to do something to impact that city. The first thing for us to work on is this Julius Jones case and try to get him off of death row. I think that is huge. Part of my job is to be myself and continue to move on my own beat.
[Thunder general manager] Sam Presti and the owner Clay Bennett have been phenomenal since I’ve touched down here. They’ve welcomed me, been supportive and taken and embraced me with open arms. I have nothing bad to say about this organization. They’ve been first class and it’s been really fun to be here.
How are you involved in the Julius Jones situation?
I’ve been talking to people who have educated me more on the situation before I jump into something and not know. We’ve been in talks. I know our owner, Clay Bennett, is huge on police reform. I’m looking forward to meeting with him and getting to know more about the things that he is involved in, and talk about things that are meaningful to me.
The 100-year anniversary of the race riot in Tulsa is coming soon. Do you hope to be a part of the commemoration event?
Definitely so. I talked to our young guys about it here in Oklahoma when I first got here. A lot of them didn’t even know what happened. I would love to get involved. I would love to drive up and go visit [the memorial] and the city on one of my off days, and where it took place. That is a big educational thing for me … I definitely want to go visit the city, walk around, shake hands and be a part of it.
Do you still enjoy the game of basketball despite what is going on in the world and being traded?
I still enjoy the game. I am not a fan of basketball in terms of watching it and playing video games, being locked into every game that comes on TV. But I am in love with the competitive side. I love to compete. I love to go out there and play with my teammates.
With that being said, I still love the game. Is it a little different now going from team to team? You try to give everything you got to an organization being loyal and things like that. Sometimes it doesn’t feel reciprocated. But like they say, ‘It’s a business,’ right?
The Black Lives Matter signs on the court, the social justice messages on the back of the jerseys and other messages are gone this season. Would you agree that the enthusiasm to speak out against social justice by the NBA and players doesn’t appear to be the same now as it was in the bubble?
[The NBA] had to do it. That’s the only way they could get the players to come back and play. They had to give them something. They got what we wanted. They played.
From the players’ standpoint, it’s just quiet. Guys are really starting to see that no matter what you do, what you say, at the end of the day it doesn’t matter. America is going to live the way that America felt like it should be lived. As we see what is going on today, if the tables were turned and 100 Black men were stealing s— out of the Capitol building, vandalizing stuff, would blood be shed? Would faces be beaten? I would think so.
Blood was shed and people were beat for just protesting and people looting different businesses. We’re talking about the state Capitol here. We’re not talking about Target or Walmart. We’re talking about the state Capitol. If America is allowing this but we’re not allowing people to be upset about a guy [white cop] kneeling on someone’s neck [George Floyd], it just shows what America really is.
Where should NBA players go from here with the social justice movement this season?
I can’t speak for everybody. I can only speak for myself. I just think with the way the world is going, I just think we all need to come together. We’re 450 [players] and when 450 stand strong, we’re more powerful than everyone thinks. …
We’re way more powerful than they think we are. I learned a lot from LeBron [James] and how he migrated and moved on and off the floor. He is a huge inspiration with how he uses his leverage to open doors and how powerful he is. That is just one guy. Four hundred and fifty can be really strong if we just come together.
We just have to continue to fight the good fight. Today shows us where we really are in this country. I think the last couple of days show us what we can do if we come together. I tip my hat out there to all the people who went out to vote. I tip my hat to all the people who are still walking the street fighting that fight. And that’s for everybody.