‘Race and Sports in America: Conversations’ primetime special covers social justice, combating inequality

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Athletes, including Olympians, discussed social justice, locker room conversations about race and ways that sports can help combat inequality in “Race and Sports in America: Conversations,” airing Monday at 8 p.m. ET on NBCSN, Olympic Channel, Golf Channel and NBC Sports Regional Networks.

NBC Sports’ Damon Hack hosted roundtables with active and retired athletes at the American Century Championship Golf Tournament in Lake Tahoe, Nevada, last week.

Panelists, including Olympians James Blake and Charles Barkley and Tokyo Olympic hopeful Stephen Curry, also reflected on personal experiences.

Barkley, an Olympic gold medalist in 1992 and 1996, said coaches recently reached out to him to speak to their teams.

“First of all, relax and breathe,” Barkley said. “This crap started 400 years ago. We can’t do nothing about that. We can’t do anything about systematic racism. What I challenge every Black person, every white person to do: What can I do today going forward?

“You have to ask yourself, I want to be part of the solution, not part of the problem. Because if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.”

Blake, a retired former top-five tennis player and 2008 Olympian, was wrestled to the ground, handcuffed and arrested by a plainclothes New York City police officer in 2015 in a case of mistaken identity caught on video. The police officer’s punishment was a loss of five vacation days.

“The first thing I said when I got tackled was, I’m complying 100 percent,” Blake said. “And that shouldn’t have to be your response the first time you interact with a police officer. And because that’s the way my dad taught me is stay alive. Do whatever you can to stay alive. Sort it out later with lawyers or however you want to do it, and stay alive in that moment. The fact you have to have those rules in 2020 means maybe we have to do something drastic to change the way police interact with the African-American community and the way the community interacts with the police.”

Curry said his daughters, 7-year-old Riley and 5-year-old Ryan, asked questions about the images they recently saw. He’s not shielding them, but rather being honest about society, going back centuries.

“We have to continue to double down and double down and keep people accountable in all walks of life, all industries, all forms of leadership, the judicial system, all those type of things,” Curry said. “And hopefully for my kids’ generation, their kids, we will see change. I’m hopeful and optimistic about, but I understand how much work will need to go into that.”

The full list of athletes who participated in the “Race and Sports in America: Conversations” roundtables:

• Charles Barkley – 1992 and 1996 Olympic basketball champion
• James Blake – 10-time ATP tennis champion, 2008 Olympian
• Stephen Curry – two-time NBA MVP, two-time FIBA world champion
• Troy Mullins – World Long Drive competitor
• Anthony Lynn – Los Angeles Chargers head coach
• Jimmy Rollins – World Series champion shortstop
• Kyle Rudolph – Minnesota Vikings tight end
• Ozzie Smith – Major League Baseball Hall of Famer

Additionally, Hack was joined by Super Bowl champion running back Jerome Bettis for an extended interview that will be published on NBC Sports’ digital and podcast platforms.

MORE: Elana Meyers Taylor’s claims of racism in bobsled being investigated

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When Michael Jordan lost in wheelchair basketball to future Paralympian

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In 1987, Eric Barber, 16, wrote to an NBC show called Sports Fantasy to pitch his dream: to play Michael Jordan one-on-one. The caveat: It would be in wheelchair basketball.

Jordan accepted. He would play Barber, who was born with scoliosis and lost the use of his legs at age 3.

They dueled in front of a gym crowd at Jordan’s basketball camp at Benedictine University in Lisle, Ill. Barber was confident, predicting victory and detailing his strategy before the event.

“Pretty much just to go around him. Keep him off balance. Shoot from like 15 feet. If I miss, get a rebound before he gets there,” he said on NBC.

The stakes: first to 20 points for a Coca-Cola, decided as the two had a 45-minute conversation beforehand. Barber went up 16-4 before Jordan closed to 18-14.

“You know how competitive Michael is,” game referee Larry Labiak said, according to the Chicago Tribune in 1999. “He started sticking his feet in Eric’s spokes to slow him down. But it was all in fun.”

Barber then drained the winner, later chalking up the victory to Jordan’s lack of experience.

“His basketball skills transferred, but he didn’t get the hang of the moving chair, so I took advantage of him,” Barber said with a smile, according to the Chicago Tribune in 2001. “I didn’t feel too badly because he had been taking advantage of people with his superior skills for a while.”

Barber went on to make four U.S. Paralympic wheelchair basketball teams, starting in 2000 and earning two bronze medals.

In the recent ESPN series “The Last Dance,” Jordan had another interaction with a future Paralympian. In video from 1998, Steve Emt was shown greeting Jordan after a Chicago Bulls game. Emt’s connection: He was a practice player for the University of Connecticut in 1992-93, going up against future Bull Scott Burrell.

In 1995, Emt was paralyzed in a car accident. He later took up wheelchair curling and made the 2018 U.S. Paralympic team.

MORE: Why Michael Jordan skipped 1996 Olympics

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Dawn Staley: USA Basketball has ‘penciled schedule’ leading up to Olympics

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The U.S. women’s basketball program’s quest for a record-tying seventh straight Olympic title, postponed by one year, is reforming.

New coach Dawn Staley said U.S. national team director Carol Callan sent her an email last week with “a penciled schedule” ahead of the Tokyo Games that open July 23, 2021.

“There’s nothing that we can do at this point because nothing’s really set in stone, but we do want to hold some training camps leading up to the Olympic Games,” Staley told Mike Tirico on “Lunch Talk Live” on NBCSN on Monday. “When they’ll be, we don’t know. But we know that, hopefully, we’ll get back to some normalcy where we can get those things in concrete.”

Staley, a point guard on the 1996, 2000 and 2004 Olympic champion teams, succeeded Geno Auriemma as head coach for this cycle. In between seasons coaching the University of South Carolina, she guided the Americans to an unprecedented third straight world championship title in 2018, stuffing rival Australia 73-56 in the final.

Last week, Staley published a letter on The Players’ Tribune, motivated to write after the killing of George Floyd in Minnesota.

“I’ve never seen anyone die. I’ve never seen anyone take their last breath in that manner,” she said on “Lunch Talk Live.” “So that was moving.”

In the letter, titled “Black People Are Tired,” Staley told a story she doesn’t believed she previously shared elsewhere — that her mom, at age 13, left South Carolina for Philadelphia because Staley’s grandmother “was afraid she might get lynched” after being run out of a meat store.

“Most people don’t know one of the reasons why I took the job at South Carolina was because of my parents,” said Staley, who in 2008 left her hometown of Philadelphia and her head coaching job at Temple for South Carolina. “When my mother got older, I thought it would be a great idea to bring her back to South Carolina.”

MORE: Dawn Staley played with Sue Bird, Diana Taurasi. Now, she coaches them

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Correction: An earlier version of this post reported that Staley was on the 1996 and 2000 Olympic champion teams. She was also on the 2004 Olympic champion team.