When you think of JaVale McGee, you probably think of all the goofy things he has done on the court to earn the unofficial title of the clown prince of TNT’s “Shaqtin’ a Fool.” But you should probably think of McGee in a different way.
McGee is the only active NBA player from Flint, Michigan, a city that has produced fellow players Charlie Bell, Mateen Cleaves, Jeff Grayer, Roy Marble, Morris Peterson, Glen Rice and Trent Tucker.
And if someone doesn’t do something soon, Flint will stop producing NBA players. Heck, if someone doesn’t do something soon, Flint might not even be a city 20 years from now.
Before you dismiss this as hyperbole, ask yourself this question: Would you live in a city where you knew the tap water was poisoned?
For those of you who don’t read or watch the news, here is what has happened in Flint over the last two years, as reported by various news outlets:
- Republican Gov. Rick Snyder replaces Flint’s city manager with an emergency city manager, who decides to change Flint’s water source from Detroit water to the Flint River, which uses a different pipe system.
- Immediate complaints from Flint residents about the taste, smell and appearance of the water fall on deaf ears. Water in Flint tests positive for E. coli.
- Flint Mayor Dayne Walling tells residents the water is safe to drink, four days after the DEQ finds Flint in violation of the Safe Drinking Water Act. It is later learned that bottled water was sent to Flint’s State Office Building as an alternative to water fountains while Flint residents were being told the water was safe.
- A test of the water in a Flint residence reveals the lead level at 104 parts per billion, nearly 700 percent above the “safe” level for adults and 2000 percent above the “safe” level for children. A child from that residence is found to have lead poisoning.
- Michigan Department of Environmental Quality spokesman Brad Wurfel, whose wife worked for the governor, says “anyone who is concerned about lead in the drinking water in Flint can relax.” The state excludes two water test samples to create an overall reading that allows it to avoid federal intervention.
- Virginia Tech researchers conduct their own study of 300 Flint homes and find the lead levels to be as high as 13,200 pbb. The threshold for hazardous waste is 5,000 pbb. A Flint doctor finds elevated lead levels in city children, a condition that can cause irreversible brain damage. There is an increase in local cases of Legionnaire’s Disease as well.
- Snyder announces a switch back to Detroit water and begins dispensing filters and bottled water to Flint residents. The filters are later found to not be reducing the lead content in the water to safe levels.
- Snyder hires two PR firms to help manage the water crisis. It is said the cost of replacing the pipes that carry water to Flint residences and businesses could be as much as $1 billion. Snyder has yet to say whether any of a budget surplus of nearly $600 million will be used to help Flint’s water crisis.
Last week, while the Spurs were getting rocked by the Warriors and Cavs and All-Star reserves were being announced, Pistons owner and Flint native Tom Gores announced a private sector campaign to raise $10 million to help the city, which has seen its residents flee at a rate of nearly 33 percent and become rife with poverty and crime since GM moved a manufacturing plant out of Flint decades ago.
This is part of the reason why the NBA has plenty of former players from Flint but just one current player. It used to be a basketball hotbed – remember “The Flintstones” at Michigan State? – but now could be on the verge of becoming a ghost town thanks to Snyder, who has become a modern-day Nero, fiddling while a city collapses.
“Flint was once a cornerstone of American industry that gave a lot to this country,” Gores said in a statement. “We need help now more than ever.”
And yes, just in case you are wondering, Flint is a predominantly black city. But that doesn’t matter, because this is the sort of thing that could just as easily happen in Grosse Pointe or Bloomfield Hills, right?
What is happening in Flint bears stark resemblance to systematic racist practices that were shot down by the Supreme Court over 60 years ago. And it is time for one of the loudest collective black voices in this country to be heard on this issue.
NBA players have supported causes before. Remember the Miami Heat all wearing hoodies for Trayvon Martin? Derrick Rose and his “I Can’t Breathe” T-shirt? The leaguewide PSA reminding young black men that their lives matter?
But the loudest NBA players have gotten was less than two years ago after racist statements by Clippers owner Donald Sterling caught on tape were published. NBA players discussed boycotting a playoff game, and Clippers players and coaches threatened to not report to training camp the following season unless Sterling was permanently removed as owner.
I am not suggesting that NBA players refuse to play until Snyder resigns as governor. What I am suggesting is that NBA players join Gores in contributing to the Flint water crisis while calling attention to this atrocity and keeping it on the national news landscape as long as possible. This was a local story largely ignored by the national media until Rachel Maddow decided it warranted nightly coverage on her show.
No, Flint isn’t home to an NBA team. But as we pointed out, it has been home to NBA players, just like dozens of mid-size cities across this country where blacks and other minorities don’t have a fighting chance due to systematic racism. These are the cities where NBA players come from, places like Birmingham and Baltimore and Fayetteville and Fresno, where the game of life is rigged by state and local governments that don’t give a damn.
As a predominantly black league with an enormous white fan base, the NBA and its players have the ability to make folks give a damn. They did so with racism and police brutality and they can do so again here. They can follow the lead of Gores and donate millions of dollars while using their collective voice to call for the removal and prosecution of elected officials who believe systematic racism is synonymous with public service.
In the meantime, we have a suggestion for Gores. His campaign should continue its efforts to raise $10 million for Flint. When the goal is reached, he should meet with Snyder – the true embodiment of “Shaqtin’ a Fool” – and make this offer.
You can have all $10 million right now if you resign.
Or you can have $1 million for every gallon of Flint tap water you can drink.
Adam Silver, what do you think? You have been strangely silent on this, and the guess here is that your predecessor wouldn’t have been.
TRIVIA: Over the last three season, James Harden has made more free throws than any player. Who is second? Answer below.
THE END OF CIVILIZATION AS WE KNOW IT: Why, what’s going on in Flint isn’t enough for you?
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, after his team lost by 30 points to Golden State – just as Cleveland did:
“I’m just glad my general manager wasn’t in the locker room, because it might have gotten me fired.”
TANKS A LOT!: Maybe the Phoenix Suns should replace the Philadelphia 76ers as the focus of this section. This week, they were swept in the season series by Philadelphia and signed Jordan McRae, a training camp cut of the 76ers. Since Dec. 10, Phoenix is 4-22 while Philadelphia is 4-19. And the Suns once held the Lakers’ top-three protected first-round pick – before trading it to the Sixers last February.
LINE OF THE WEEK: DeMarcus Cousins, Sacramento vs. Charlotte, Jan. 25: 46 minutes, 21-30 FGs, 1-3 3-pointers, 13-16 FTs, 12 rebounds, four assists, two blocks, one steal, seven turnovers, 56 points in a 129-128 double-overtime loss. As we have said in the past, it takes a lot to claim this category when your team loses, and Boogie did a lot. He established a career high for the second straight game with the most points scored by any player this season. It also was the most by any member of the Kings in the Sacramento era (since 1985).
LINE OF THE WEAK: LaMarcus Aldridge, San Antonio at Golden State, Jan. 25: 25 minutes, 2-9 FGs, 0-1 3-pointers, 1-2 FTs, three rebounds, one assist, two blocks, three turnovers, five points in a 120-90 loss. The Spurs went after Aldridge in free agency so they could challenge the Warriors. He didn’t do much to change the pecking order in the West.
TRILLION WATCH: Apparently, the heroes of zeros wanted to atone for last week’s ho-hum showing as they produced both quantity and quality. There were 2 trillions from Cleveland’s James Jones, Toronto’s Anthony Bennett, Atlanta’s Mike Muscala and Hawks teammate Lamar Patterson, the erstwhile season leader. There were 3 trillions from Utah’s Tibor Pleiss and San Antonio teammates Rasual Butler and Matt Bonner in the same game. Washington’s Drew Gooden crashed the season leaderboard with a 5 trillion Monday vs. Boston. And Charlotte rookie Aaron Harrison took weekly honors with a 6 trillion Monday at Sacramento. Thanks for playing!
GAME OF THE WEEK: Oklahoma City at Golden State, Feb. 6. Everyone made a big deal of the first meeting between the Warriors and San Antonio Spurs last week. Well, this is the first meeting between the Warriors and Thunder, who also are in the NBA title conversation. In its most recent meetings with Chicago, Cleveland and San Antonio, Golden State has won by 30-plus points. Let’s see if Oklahoma City can do any better.
GAME OF THE WEAK: Brooklyn at Philadelphia, Feb. 6. One of these teams has lost 13 of its last 15 games. The other is the 76ers, who stand nothing to gain by winning.
TWO MINUTES: Stephen Curry is almost certainly going to break Kyle Korver’s record of at least one 3-pointer in 127 consecutive games. The superstar guard of the Warriors is up to 119 games and is averaging 4.8 made threes per game. If Curry avoids injury, he would tie and break the record on the road; Game No. 127 would be Feb. 24 in Miami and Game No. 128 would be the next night in Orlando. By the way, Curry also has made 34 straight free throws. … Over the weekend, the Lakers were mathematically eliminated from winning the Pacific Division title. They still have 32 games to play. … Nuggets rookie Emmanuel Mudiay is still feeling his way through his first season. When Denver visited Washington this week, the point guard was blown away by John Wall’s speed. “He said to me during the game, ‘Man, John Wall is the quickest guy I’ve ever played against,” Nuggets coach Mike Malone said. “And I said, ‘You’re not even guarding him, Gary Harris is.'” … If the Hornets somehow make the playoffs and the Magic don’t – both teams currently are beneath the top eight in the East – the difference will be in their overtime records. Charlotte is 5-0, including a win over Orlando, which is 1-5. … In Saturday’s win at Houston, Washington had eight players in double figures but none with 20 points. In addition, Otto Porter scored nine. … When Miami beat Atlanta on Sunday, it marked the Heat’s first four-game winning streak since LeBron James left for Cleveland. … Timberwolves guard Zach Lavine’s 35 points in Wednesday’s loss to Oklahoma City were a career high, the most ever by a Minnesota reserve and the most by any bench player in the NBA this season. … The Spurs are 25-0 at home and the Warriors are 22-0. If you’re wondering if two teams have gone unbeaten this deep into the same season before, the answer is yes. In the 1995-96 season, the Orlando Magic won their first 34 home games and the Chicago Bulls won their first 37 home games. The Magic finished 37-4 at home and the Bulls finished 39-2. Indiana was the only team to win in both cities. … When Rockets center Dwight Howard went 4-of-15 from the line in Friday’s loss at Oklahoma City, he became the third player this season to miss at least 11 free throws in a game. Predictably, the other two are DeAndre Jordan (twice) and Andre Drummond (three times).
Trivia Answer: DeMar DeRozan. … Happy 47th Birthday, Walter Bond. … Hey, Adam Silver, the NHL thought the glowing puck was a good idea, too.
Chris Bernucca is the managing editor of SheridanHoops.com. His columns appear Monday during the season. You can follow him on Twitter.