They laughed about their remarkably similar looks. One stood comfortably at 6’6”, the other stands at 6’8”. One was 46 years old, the other four years his junior. One is now a martyr for a contemporary civil rights movement, the other is a former NBA player speaking up on his friend’s behalf.
In the wake of yet another callous killing of an innocent, unarmed Black U.S. citizen, retired basketball professional Stephen Jackson has been at the forefront of seeking justice for George Floyd.
“(He was) somebody who wanted to be a protector and provider,” Jackson said in an interview with CNN. “Everybody (got) along with him. That was Floyd.”
Emblematic of the systemic racial discrimination plaguing countless altercations between law enforcement and Black communities, Floyd’s death has resonated as a rallying cry for a nation too long affected by police brutality.
Hundreds of thousands have taken to the streets with cries for justice, protesting the enraging acts committed by ex-Minneapolis police officers Derek Chauvin, Tou Thao, J. Alexander Kueng and Thomas Lane. Chauvin was initially charged with third–degree murder and manslaughter, while the others had yet to be charged. Millions of online posts flood social media streams, where impassioned users amplify movements seeking fundamental social equality. Prominent GoFundMe campaigns, such as the Official George Floyd Memorial Fund and Justice and Equality Fund, continue to receive generous waves of donations.
“This is something I’ve never seen before,” Jackson said in a TV segment with “Undisputed.” “This is happening all over the world. You see it on camera day after day after day. … Here (in Minnesota), where it actually happened, the pain is different.”
Back in Houston, Jackson and Floyd were introduced to each other by a mutual friend. The two immediately hit it off, trading jokes and bonding through their strikingly similar resemblances as a “twin-like” kinship.
Over the years, they kept in touch. As a professional athlete, Jackson is well-connected, but is seldom blind to relationships in which so-called friends may attempt to abuse his kindness.
With Floyd, it was never like that.
“(Our relationship) was genuine from day one. … We talked about me doing things after basketball. We talked about being great fathers,” Jackson said on “Undisputed.” “It sucks that someone who showed so much love … had to die from someone showing so much hate. That’s what kills me the most.”
Jackson is known for telling it how it is. He cares less of people’s perceived judgments of him and more about speaking up when something’s wrong.
On the court, Jackson channeled his fiery zeal through trash talk for 14 NBA seasons, psyching out anyone who stood between him and the basket. It was the kind of intensity that admittedly got the best of him at times — as of 2017, Jackson ranked among the top 20 players with the most technical fouls in NBA history. Nonetheless, he commanded respect and earned a championship ring as a critical defensive anchor on the 2002-03 San Antonio Spurs to back his banter up.
Jackson has also faced a fair share of tragedy — at 16 years old, he sat beside his 25-year-old half brother, Donald Buckner Jr., as he took his final breaths. One of Jackson’s heroes and closest confidantes, Buckner Jr. passed away after being beaten by a jealous ex-boyfriend of his girlfriend at the time. From that point on, Jackson made a vow to channel his emotions for the greater good, namely through charitable work and philanthropy.
Like many NBA players who have actively advocated for social reform (LeBron James, Karl-Anthony Towns and Malcolm Brogdon among them), Jackson is a humanitarian. In 2005, Jackson’s surrounding community of Port Arthur, Texas, was hit hard by Hurricane Rita. To rebuild the city, he established the Stephen Jackson Academy, which provided a safe haven for kids to play recreational basketball after school and helped further their education through academic opportunities. As a result, he was awarded the coveted NBA Cares Community Assist Award.
Jackson is as authentic as it gets — it’s a moral principle that has guided his life both on and off the court. When he speaks, everything comes straight from the heart. Unapologetic expression, especially in the face of bigotry, is a matter of integrity.
You can see it firsthand while scrolling through Jackson’s social media pages.
On Twitter, he’s an open book, regularly relaying his thoughts and opinions on heavy social issues to a following of more than 71,000 fans. Through Instagram, Jackson helped publicize the gruesome killings of other unarmed Black men and women, including Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor.
Because of his history rooted in activism and unwavering friendship with Floyd, there is perhaps no one more qualified to help lead this movement forward than Jackson.
“A lot of people don’t understand, so I’m going to put it in basketball terms,” Jackson said to “Undisputed” co-host Skip Bayless. “(Black people) keep trying to score, we keep trying to be successful, but you keep fouling us. … It’s not fair.”
In guiding those who want to help take action, Jackson emphasizes several key points.
First, he highlights the powerful effects of ethnic unity.
“The world understands what’s right and what’s wrong,” Jackson said in an interview with the “Today” show. “If we stand arm to arm, side by side, shoulder to shoulder with every race, we can’t lose.”
Second, he praises the continuation of peaceful protests.
“We come from a place of love,” Jackson said in a separate “Today” show interview. “Floyd would want everybody standing together and fighting for justice, and that’s it. He’s not the type of person to promote violence.”
This response followed days of unrest, during which looters took advantage of the Floyd protests as an opportunity for personal material gain.
Third, Jackson urges us to vote both nationally and locally.
“We got to vote. I’m not just talking about the president. I’m talking about the local city council. I’m talking about your police chief, your fire chief,” Jackson told ESPN. “What we’re doing now as far as protesting everywhere around the world, we got to use that same energy when it’s time to vote.”
Perhaps one of the greatest injustices in all of this is that someone like Jackson has to be one (of many) to speak up for real change to happen. If a passerby hadn’t filmed the killing, if protesters hadn’t multiplied, if other celebrities hadn’t pledged their stances in solidarity, Floyd’s death may have been nothing more than just another statistic in the archives of U.S. history. A change in the status quo starts with a revolution — a significant shake-up is a step in the right direction.
On June 2, Jackson hoisted Floyd’s daughter, Gianna, high atop his shoulders.
At the age of 6, Gigi may be young, but she’s just as aware of her father’s lasting legacy as the rest of us are.
“Daddy changed the world,” she said. “Daddy changed the world.”