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Among his teammates, Hodges earned a reputation for having informed opinions on virtually any subject. He frequently disarmed coaches and teammates by initiating conversations about religion and politics—topics rarely tackled in the locker room. In 1991, he was one of the few Bulls players to publicly oppose the gulf war (on that issue, he saw eye to eye with Phil Jackson). And he urged his teammates to invest their millions in businesses that would create jobs in poor black communities.
The Bulls went on to win the series and capture their first championship. In October, they were invited to the White House to be congratulated by President George H.W. Bush. Hodges showed up to the ceremony wearing a full-length dashiki and bearing an eight-page letter that he intended to hand to Bush. "The purpose of this note is to speak on behalf of the poor people, Native Americans, homeless and, most specifically, the African Americans, who are not able to come to this great edifice and meet the leader of the nation where they live," his letter began. "This letter is not begging for anything, but 300 years of free slave labor has left the African American community destroyed. It is time for a comprehensive plan for change. Hopefully, this letter will help become a boost in the unification of inner-city youth and these issues will be brought to the forefront of the domestic agenda."
When the 1992-'93 season began, Hodges was still without a team. In December '92, league officials told him they wouldn't allow him to defend his three-point championship at the All-Star Game in February. "They said they have a policy where you can't participate in an all-star event unless you're on a roster," Hodges says.
But that's not true. In 1989, the NBA allowed Rimas Kurtinaitis, a player for the Soviet national team, to participate in the three-point contest—and he never played in the NBA. Sam Smith wrote a column in the Tribune about the matter, blasting league officials for their hypocrisy. "The NBA sends out a lot of messages: Stay in School. Don't Use Drugs," Smith wrote. "Perhaps it's time for one that goes something like this: 'Keep your mouth shut and behave like people feel you should unless you can make them a lot of money or are too famous for them to silence.' "
After Smith's column was published, the NBA reversed its position and invited Hodges to participate. He finished third.
The list of his infractions is long. It wasn't just the dashiki at the White House or the letter to Bush or his admiration for Farrakhan or his criticism of Jordan or his position on the players' pension—it was all of those things together that made Hodges untouchable. "The biggest way to blacklist someone is to make him invisible," Hodges says. "Why do you think they didn't want to invite me to that three-point contest? Think about it. How would it look if I won? Someone might ask, 'Why's this guy, who's good enough to win the three-point championship, not good enough to play in the league?' So they pretend like I don't exist."
There's a difference between me as a competitor on the court and me as an educated black man speaking my mind. I won't take one if it means giving up the other."