Before the Rockets began their shootaround preparations for Monday’s game against the Chicago Bulls, Rockets coach Stephen Silas had a message for his team. The evening’s game was not mentioned.
With the Rockets among the teams playing the NBA’s annual schedule of Martin Luther King Day games, Silas spoke about the importance of the day, the message and the cause.
“I try to use every opportunity to shine a light on things going on in the world,” Silas said. “You know, there’s a lot of stuff going on, and Martin Luther King Day is a special day to me and to the whole country. I just tried to point out the fact that he was so selfless and he really just sacrificed so much. He would (have been) 92 on Jan. 15, and his whole life was sacrificing for others.
“He was put in jail 29 times for a lot of times just basically nothing. And it was very much all about the greater good, instead of what was best for him. And that’s something that we all should look towards and understand, that a lot of times we can kind of get in inside ourselves. And for us to acknowledge a man who sacrificed so much for me, the players, everybody because it was very much about equality. It wasn’t about just African Americans.”
Silas did not stop there, sharing how the work and progress of the civil rights movement hit close to home and is far from distant history. Silas’ father, former NBA All-Star Paul Silas, began his career with the St. Louis Hawks and played in Atlanta, experiencing treatment that was routine for his generation.
“I also kind of told them about my dad, who came into the NBA in 1964,” Silas said. “And, you know, it was a tough social climate, at that point. And there were restaurants and hotels that my father wasn’t … allowed to go into at all, or not allowed to go into the front door. So, it’s really not that far away.
“So, there’s a lot that has been improved. And we still have a long way to go. But I just wanted the players to hear my story when it came to the Martin Luther King Day, and really let them kind of marinate on the sacrifice that he gave for all of us.”
Silas had not told that story to an entire team until last summer when the NBA halted play for several days following the shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisc. and the Milwaukee Bucks’ decision to sit out a playoff game against the Orlando Magic.
“For them it seems like it’s ages ago and for me it’s just one generation that all of that stuff kind of happened,” Silas said. “But in this position, it is my responsibility to shine a light to educate, to make it more make it about more than just basketball but with these players because I am in a unique position to be a young African American coach. And I’m blessed to have an owner (Tilman Fertitta) and to have a GM (Rafael Stone) who believe in me to be in this position. So, I’m going to take advantage of every opportunity that I have to teach to listen and really make it more make it not more than basketball.”
The Rockets are one of four NBA teams with a Black head coach and Black head of basketball operations. With Silas, a discussion of a topic bigger than basketball was not unusual.
“He always likes to bring up issues, what’s going on out there before we get into our meetings about what we’re doing with the games or practice,” Rockets veteran forward P.J. Tucker said. “It’s his style, what he likes.
“We just had a long conversation about it this morning. There’s a lot more emphasis on it this year. We’ve always done everything on this date, especially the games, and given thanks and appreciation and awareness and now the awareness is just there. It doesn’t take Martin Luther King Day. It’s more an everyday thing. So, guys were talking about how appreciative they were to have the opportunity to do what we’re doing, to have an opportunity to play, but it’s bigger than just us. You know, more things going on off the court now. Guys want their voice to be heard.
“With everything that’s going on in the world, you saw in the bubble, guys really wanted to step up, speak … their minds and get out there.”
Still, to Silas it was “so important” just to talk and share experiences.
“I hope we all understand that,” Silas said. “We’re blessed and we’re privileged to be in this position but it’s also we’re standing on the shoulders of a lot of people who were killed or died or sacrificed or did a lot for us to be here. It they could just think about that, in those terms, it’s really gratifying to me that the message got across.”
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