After George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis, we’ve seen plenty of professional athletes speaking out. From players in the Bundesliga sharing messages of support after goals to Floyd Mayweather offering to pay for Floyd’s funeral, there has been no shortage statements from the world of sports. Thabo Sefolosha’s stance, however, has come from a different place.
While the Houston Rockets forward recently spoke out, condemning police brutality, he isn’t speaking as an outside observer. Sefolosha experienced that reality firsthand in 2015.
Thabo Sefolosha’s NBA career
While Thabo Sefolosha was never the biggest star on the court, that didn’t hold the forward back. Between Europe and the NBA, he’s spent almost two decades plying his trade on the hardwood.
Sefolosha cut his teeth in Europe, playing professional ball in his native Switzerland and Italy. In 2006, however, he got his chance at the big time; the Philadelphia 76ers selected him with the 13th pick of the NBA draft and traded his rights to the Chicago Bulls.
While Switzerland isn’t known for its basketball prospects, Chicago’s front office was impressed by Sefolosha’s talent. “Thabo’s got great physical gifts that, frankly, a lot of guys in the league just don’t have. He’s got tremendous length and has really quick hands,” then-head coach Scott Skiles told the Bulls’ official website. “He grabs your attention whenever you watch him play.”
The forward spent two and a half seasons with the Bulls before joining the Oklahoma City Thunder; after five full campaigns there, he moved to Atlanta in a sign-and-trade deal. Sefolosha also spent time with the Utah Jazz and, in the fall of 2019, he inked a contract with the Houston Rockets, where he’s currently plying his trade.
Although Sefolosha never developed into a game-changing star, he has found a niche as a defensive specialist. He’s never been a dominant scorer, but that hasn’t hampered his career.
Experiencing police brutality firsthand
Like many other pro athletes, Thabo Sefolosha has spoken out about policing and racism in light of George Floyd’s death. Unlike many other stars, however, the forward had a well-documented run-in with the law.
According to the New York Times, Sefolosha and his then-teammate, Pero Antic, were arrested outside a New York City nightclub in 2015. The forward was charged with resisting arrest, obstructing governmental administration, and disorderly conduct; he also suffered a broken right fibula “when the officers knocked him to the ground and handcuffed him.” That injury caused him to miss the rest of the season, including the 2015 NBA playoffs.
Sefolosha spent the next two years fighting his case in court. As documented in another New York Times article, he was eventually acquitted of all criminal charges; he also filed a federal lawsuit claiming that he was falsely arrested and subjected to excessive force, but settled out of court for $4 million.
Thabo Sefolosha is still speaking out
When Thabo Sefolosha saw the video of a police officer kneeling on George Floyd’s neck, it understandably hit close to home.
“I think every black man in America, in my opinion, from the 14 years I’ve lived here, can feel that way,” Sefolosha told CNN. “It’s that ultimate bullying. … I think it’s just an abuse of power that you’ve seen in preschool, middle school bullying, and it’s at such a high level that the people have to be fed up, and something has to be done about it.
“How can a human being do that to somebody else and just sit on his neck for nine minutes? Intentionally in broad daylight killing someone like this,” the forward continued. “And the anger is extended to the other officers that are just around just watching. Like, what is your purpose in life? Why did you decide to become a police officer? Everything is to be put in question at this point. So I can’t really blame people that are in the street just angry.”
While the forward also noted that it would be great to get back on the court, it’s every athletes’ responsibility to use their celebrity status for good.
“I want myself and all the rest of the athletes with a platform, it’s time for action,” he explained. “And I want to really stress that I think it’s for all of us to take it upon us to be about action right now.”
Stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference