LeBron James Breaks Silence on Darfur

When we queried the Cavs' media relations department a few months ago, asking if James would do an interview about the letter, we were told he would address it at some point, just "not right now."

We found other NBA players reluctant to speak on the issue of activism and China as well, some because they said they were focusing on the playoffs and some who said they hadn't really been paying attention. And there were some who feared what happened to Craig Hodges could happen to them.

Hodges was a sharpshooting guard with the Chicago Bulls in the early 1990s, who won three straight NBA All-Star 3-point contests and helped the Bulls win two straight championships. But at the Bulls' 1991 visit to the White House, Hodges wore a dashiki and handed a letter to President George H. W. Bush condemning the treatment of African-Americans in the United States. The Bulls cut him in 1992 and he never got another tryout with another team.

NBA commissioner David Stern vehemently denies the league had anything to do with Hodges' situation. "Nothing to it," Stern said of Hodges' claims that his actions damaged his job prospects.

Still, some ask, how could rapper Master P get a tryout, but not a pure shooter like Craig Hodges? Others argued that Hodges couldn't guard a post.

To the Bulls, obviously, he was expendable.

"Craig Hodges was a good player," Barkley said. "Like every player in the NBA is a good player. But if you are not a great player and people assume that you might cause trouble, they're not going to have you because it's too big of a business."

Hodges declined to speak to "Outside the Lines" on camera, but told us he still believes his actions cost him his career and millions of dollars. He is now a shooting coach for the Lakers and, ironically, coaches Newble. He said he advised Newble to be careful about speaking out on Darfur, not wanting what happened to him to happen to Newble. Newble said he didn't care.

"I'm not afraid of anything," he said, adding his father wasn't afraid either, even when the ramifications of speaking out in the 1960s sometimes meant losing your life. "I've been playing eight years now so I'm comfortable with my decision. If something comes from it, then so be it. I'm satisfied because when I look at myself in the mirror, I can say, 'Ira, you tried to make a difference.'"

Washington Wizards center Etan Thomas said he was somewhat concerned when he got a letter from the NBA after he spoke at an anti-war rally in 2005, telling him to be careful. Stern refuted Thomas' claim, saying such a letter "doesn't exist." Thomas insists he received it.

Newble's efforts eventually led him to a Los Angeles-based group called Aid Still Required, which was asking NBA players to record public-service announcements in hopes of pressuring the Chinese government to consider its role in the Darfur conflict. Phoenix Suns guard Steve Nash immediately said yes. Nash has been more outspoken than most NBA players. He has publicly criticized the war in Iraq and said he opposed what the Chinese government was doing and wasn't afraid to say it, but could understand why some are.

"I have a little bit of a problem with everyone putting this pressure on young athletes who have trained their whole lives to perform in the Olympics," said Nash, "essentially forcing them to be the ones that have to now take the responsibility for boycotting or taking a stand."

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