NBA Hall of Famer Wayne Embry, who was the first African American to become a general manager in pro sports, believes players should use their voices by continuing to play during the current protests while supporting the Black Lives Matter movement.
"I've always been a proponent of sports being a model of a greater society because we come together from different cultures and different backgrounds and work toward a common goal," Embry said. "Going ahead and playing now could be a model. I know I would play.
"I'm a big supporter of the First Amendment. You have every right to be vocal and protest. Our players should never shut up and dribble. If you believe in the constitution, that makes you a patriot and you're entitled to say whatever you want."
Embry, 83, has been reminded by the protests in recent weeks of the spring of 1968. He and his Boston Celtics teammates were in Philadelphia for the start of a playoff series the day Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. He and his teammates wanted to boycott the game that night.
"We knew the country was going to be thrown into turmoil. We knew there was going to be riots. Most of the players weren't going to play. Our minds weren't on the game. We were all stung," said Embry, a five-time All-Star who has been a senior adviser with the Toronto Raptors since 2004.
"We had a meeting. Some of the white players wanted to play. Most of the black players didn't. Red [Auerbach] came to us and said Commissioner [J. Walter] Kennedy been in contact with mayors of both cities and they thought it was wise if we played because of the interest in the game. People would stay home to watch it. We had a debate. We didn't want to see violence. Dr. King's legacy had been nonviolent. So we played the game."
The Celtics won that night but the entire NBA shut down the playoffs for four days until after Dr. King had been buried.
"We were in mourning, we very concerned what was going to happen," Embry said. "Things calmed after the funeral. The communities moved from protest to mourning."
Embry, a winner of the National Civil Rights Museum Sports Legacy Award, broke ground when he became the GM of the Milwaukee Bucks in 1972. After winning a title with the Celtics in 1968, he helped build the 1971 champion Bucks and also won a ring last year with the Raptors.
As a leader of the NBA's efforts to diversify leadership, he believes the league has shown a good history of inclusion. Recently, the numbers of African American executives and coaches have fallen. During the league's shutdown the Chicago Bulls hired Marc Eversley and the Detroit Pistons hired Troy Weaver, both African American, under the title of general manager.
"The NBA has been at the forefront in diversity in sports. It doesn't mean we can't move further," Embry said. "When it comes to hiring, those things go in cycles. But the NBA always looks to improve and we will still have the incentive to continue doing that."