Despite all of 2020’s challenges — a global pandemic and the fight for racial justice, especially — Marcus Smart is feeling optimistic.
In a piece for the Players’ Tribune published Monday, the 26-year-old Celtics guard detailed his firsthand experiences with both COVID-19 and racial abuse, and why he’s still motivated to work toward change.
Interestingly, Smart noted that the NBA bubble — a polarizing subject among both players and coaches — was “pretty damn great,” since it allowed him more time to just sit back and think.
Ensconced in the bubble, Smart says he “thought a lot about this moment we’re all living through right now. About my experience with COVID-19, the pandemic as a whole, and the ongoing movement for racial justice in this country — about how all those things overlapped.”
Through it all, he sees signs of hope.
“I feel like the pandemic, and this past year in general, really has exposed the fact that there is a lot within this country, within the world, that could use some rethinking,” Smart admitted. “But, you better believe that it’s also shown that when the right people come together, and put aside our differences for the sake of progress and justice, we can be a truly powerful force for good.”
His experience with racism, Smart explained, goes back far earlier than 2020. It began as a child, when he was followed around stores. It continued at Oklahoma State, where he says he was called the n-word by a fan of an opposing team.
After being drafted by the Celtics in 2014, Smart noted he was often pulled over by police, one of whom he says questioned whether Smart was “one of them,” in reference to Colin Kaepernick.
“I was terrified hearing that,” Smart wrote.
Still, the most jarring incident for Smart happened just outside TD Garden several years ago, following a Celtics win, when he was headed to his car.
“I saw a white woman with her five- or six-year-old son crossing against the light right as the cars were starting to come at them.”
Smart says he tried to yell for her to move out of the street before they were hit, but the woman — wearing an Isaiah Thomas Celtics jersey — turned back and called him the n-word along with other expletives.
“For a second it was like I couldn’t breathe,” Smart wrote.
The incident, Smart explained, made him “feel less than human.”
“I think about that night, that moment, a lot,” Smart says in retrospect. “And more than anything else, I think about … that little boy.”
It also teaches a lesson.
“It just reminds me that racism is not something you’re born with,” he wrote. “It’s taught.”
So why is Smart optimistic in the face of continued struggles to contain the pandemic and fight racial injustice?
He had a simple answer: “These kids.”
The youths around the country who are stepping up their activism “understand that love is better than hate, that innocent people should not be hurt or killed, that fairness and equality should be a given within our society, and that we’re all in this together,” Smart wrote.
“It makes me smile just thinking about those kids, and what they’re bound to accomplish for our country in the coming years,” Smart added. “I’m inspired by what they’re doing — how they’re not just out there, they’re actually helping to lead — and where they’re going to take this country down the line.”
Still, he thinks the fight is just beginning, citing a basketball analogy to illustrate his point.
“This is like when you play a seven-game series, you know what I mean?” Smart wrote. “You’re not going to be clapping because you won the first game. You keep your eyes on the prize.”
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