With little fanfare, Olympic legend, activist visits the Spurs

John Carlos (pictured, right during 1968 Olympic 200M medal ceremony) doesn't meet with many professional sports teams, but the San Antonio Spurs welcomed him with open arms.

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The San Antonio Spurs aren’t a typical NBA team. Their culture fosters an intelligence that extends beyond the walls of sport, well into society and personal development. The Spurs are a business, but they’re also a family. 

Olympic bronze-medalist sprinter John Carlos is one of the most socially pivotal athletes of the past 60 years. He was one of the two men, along with Tommie Smith, to give the Black Power salute from the medal stand at the 1968 Olympics. But Carlos’ involvement in human rights predated the games; he was a founding member of the Olympic Project for Human Rights, and he advocated boycotting the 1968 Olympics. And over the weekend he traveled to San Antonio to meet with the NBA’s model franchise.

The Nation’s Dave Zirin, who co-wrote Carlos’ memoir, accompanied the 70-year-old icon on his journey:

 Out of respect for everyone’s privacy, I’m not going to write about the intense questions that the Spurs players asked Dr. Carlos. I’m not going to write about the unique culture created by Coach Popovich, a culture where listening to John Carlos was seen as an important part of getting ready for the NBA season.

[…] But I will say something about how much this trip meant to John Carlos. Please understand that after Dr. Carlos and I wrote his memoir, we spoke everywhere from high schools and colleges to prisons and Occupy Wall Street. But in the fraternity of pro sports, no one reached out to us. I was stunned teams didn’t respond to my e-mails when we traveled to a given town, but John Carlos was not surprised at all. In the sports world, Carlos had long been treated like he was a toxic element, as pro sports transformed into a global corporate leviathan. There was no room for his voice in an era when political stances, particularly among black athletes, were seen as antithetical to the business of winning games at all costs.

The Spurs, according to Zirin, relished the opportunity. And the same was true of Carlos, who called the Spurs a team he admires. Carlos said it’s "imperative" that he spreads the message that athletes around the world can do so much more than just entertain fans.

It’s no surprise that the Spurs are basically the only team across professional sports that’s been willing to hear Carlos speak. They’re progressive thinkers who habitually lead the way, on the court and off it.

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