NBA legend Isiah Thomas on Friday pleaded with all Americans to do more to address racial injustice, citing this week's wave of protests from professional athletes as an inspiration.
"We have been waiting for centuries to have this conversation about the system of oppression that blacks must live under in this country," Thomas said on CNBC's "Squawk on the Street." "What I see in our country is eerily very similar to what we marched and fought against in the 60s, 50s, 70s, 80s, 80s and now in the 2000s."
Thomas, two-time NBA champion with the Detroit Pistons and a member of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, noted that his comments came on Friday on the 57th anniversary of the Washington March 1963, where Martin Luther King Jr. gave his historic speech "I have a dream".
Then, as now, Thomas said protesters simply ask, "Let us have an equal opportunity with regard to the American dream."
The racial justice movement that grips the United States this summer – sparked by the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May and again this week by the police shooting of Jacob Blake by the Kenosha, Wisconsin police – is at the base, Thomas said.
"This is an organic uprising of all the different classified races and colors in the streets marching and protesting. We want a better America for everyone, not just a classified class of people," he said.
Thomas hailed the decision by professional athletes this week to protest Blake's shooting by suspending games. It started on Wednesday with the Milwaukee Bucks choosing not to play their first-round playoff game against the Orlando Magic and quickly expanding to other leagues like the WNBA and MLB.
"I think it was a historic moment for social justice and in sport too," said Thomas, who complimented the players and leagues for using their platforms, "to get US attention to say," Hey what is happening here is wrong. "
Thomas, who grew up poor on the West Side of Chicago and turned into an active businessman after his NBA career, has pushed back people who criticized the protests in the sport.
For example, White House senior adviser Jared Kushner told CNBC on Thursday: "I think NBA players are very fortunate to have the financial position to take a night off without the consequences to have to. " financially. "
Thomas responded by saying, "The NBA players are lucky. The NFL players are economically fortunate because they can afford to lose money but give voice to the voiceless. That is what sports and entertainment are all about . " He added that black professional athletes and their families are not immune to racism and police brutality.
"What was called a night off was really a work hiatus and boycott to draw attention to what is happening in our America. And when I say our America, I am talking about black and white," said Thomas. "First we're all Americans, and then we're put into those racial categories of black and white. But first we're Americans."