A handful of professional basketball players spoke to Bleacher Report about their first memory of being called the N-word.
Many were in middle or high school.
Jaylen Brown, currently a 22-year-old on the Boston Celtics, said he was in an Elite Eight high school game when a kid tipped the ball out of his hands and tried to argue that it was out of bounds on Brown.
That’s usual, players do it all the time. But what followed stuck with Brown.
“He was like, ‘I’m locking that [expletive] up,’ and then he called me the N-word,” Brown recalled the boy saying. “I was like, ‘What did you just say bro?'”
“He said you heard me, and said it again, like, looked at me dead in the eyes,” Brown continued. “His goal was that, and I didn’t even realize this, was to make me upset. But that was the first time that somebody looked me in my eyes and was like, ‘Yeah, this is what it is.'”
Memphis Grizzlies veteran point guard Mike Conley, 31, has heard similar for years.
“Fans will be fans,” he said. “Like any sport, they don’t see you as people when you walk on that court, for whatever reason, they say whatever they want.”
Bradley Beal, a 25-year-old guard on the Washington Wizards, said someone called him the N-word while he was walking out of gym class.
“Literally, it was kind of weird why he even called me it,” Beal said. “But he pushed me and just called me the N-word and I was like ‘Woah,’ and I just turned around and stuck him right in the jaw.”
It’s not just the N-word the athletes heard at young ages.
WNBA star A’ja Wilson, a 22-year-old on the Las Vegas Aces, said she once asked to sleep over at a friend’s house when she attended a private school.
She said the school’s African-American population was “maybe” 10 percent.
“She kind of was just like, ‘You know, if you come to my house, you’re going to have to sleep outside.'” Wilson recalled. “I think that’s when it kind of clicked with me. People might not just like you cause the color of your skin.”
Portland Trail Blazers guard CJ McCollum said when he was a freshman, some opposing fans started chanting “Who’s the monkey!?” about a player on his team.
“There’s some people who were raised in racist environments and it’s a part of who they are because of the influence that they had on their life,” he said.
That was during the 2005-06 high school season.
Conley was a senior that year.
“Part of you is like, I thought that was over. I thought we were beyond it,” he said. “But at the same time, you see it full circle right there. It’s not going anywhere, unfortunately.
But the group spoke about how to help society become more inclusive: Learn history, advised Golden State Warriors forward Andre Iguodala. Take a stand, Wilson encouraged, even if you’re not black. Don’t be afraid to have an awkward conversation, said McCollum.
“Being able to talk about things and discuss things, I think that gives everybody a better perspective,” McCollum said. “Some one else who may not look like us, come from places like us, may not understand what it’s like to go through some of the things that we go through.”