When NBA journeyman Stephen Jackson met George Floyd — a 6-foot-6 former basketball player himself — for the first time, the resemblance between the two was so striking that both thought they might be related.
“The first thing we both say: ‘Man, who’s your dad?'” Jackson told Marc Spears of ESPN’s The Undefeated on Monday, one week to the day after Floyd died after Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin kneeled on his neck for more than eight minutes. “And just from that, from looking alike and from that day forward, we just had a bond. We became tight.”
The chance encounter through a mutual friend years ago in Houston led to a new nickname for Floyd, “twin,” and later to a new calling for Jackson as a vocal leader for the black community after he spoke at a rally for Floyd last week in the Twin Cities.
“How did I get this role?” Jackson said in an interview with Spears on Instagram Live. “Like, I’m honest with you: I did not expect to have the role and to have so many people waiting to see what I have to say and what’s the next move. Like, I didn’t ask to be in this position, but I’m embracing it. I’m embracing it.”
Jackson, who retired in 2014 after playing 14 seasons in the league and winning a championship with the San Antonio Spurs in 2003, has used his voice to transition to his role as co-host of the popular podcast “All the Smoke” with Matt Barnes on Showtime. Now, he finds himself using that voice for social change.
“Right now, I’m 10 toes down, and my only purpose is getting justice and being with these people and trying to be a good leader,” Jackson said, noting that his unexpected visit to Minnesota to support Floyd’s family has stretched to five days.
In taking up the mantle as he has, Jackson has advice for those listening who want direction on how to act from here.
First, Jackson said, protesting peacefully is paramount — and that means being cognizant while demonstrating that there might be people trying to manipulate those protests to devolve into riots and looting.
“We got to be smarter and don’t fall for the trick bag,” Jackson said. “Right now, a perfect example: In Atlanta, there’s no construction in downtown Atlanta. I live in Atlanta. But at midnight, you see a pallet of bricks, just loose bricks, sitting in the middle of downtown, for people to throw. Why is that there?”
The peaceful protests are meant to highlight the public policy changes that are necessary to cure the systemic societal ills that are the backdrop to Floyd’s death while in police custody after being suspected of passing a counterfeit $20 bill, Jackson said.
Secondly, Jackson said, there need to be changes to those who serve as elected officials.
“We got to vote,” Jackson said. “I’m not just talking about the president. I’m talking about the local city council. I’m talking about your police chief, your fire chief. We need to vote for all that type of stuff because all that stuff’s going to matter at the end. And what we’re doing now as far as protesting everywhere around the world, we got to use that same energy when it’s time to vote.”
He is urging his followers to reach out to those they know who are being marginalized and offer similar support.
“I’ve been holding other races accountable,” he said. “Like, you can’t say you love me and not be standing here on the side of me. Them days is over with. You can’t say you love the way I play basketball and make jump shots and win championships and not stand on the side of me and support me when I need you the most.”
Jackson also criticized NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, who in a statement Saturday pushed for unity of all races and sided with the protestors fighting against police brutality after the death of Floyd.
Jackson said he found the NFL’s statement laughable.
“That’s so fake, man. It’s so fake,” he said.
“Why even do it? We know it’s not real. We know it’s not real. You’re making yourself look bad. That’s one of those situations where they shouldn’t even say nothing, bro. They shouldn’t even say nothing. … If anything, they need to apologize to [Colin] Kaepernick. If they’re gonna respond on this type of stuff, start it off with an apology to Kaepernick. Then maybe we’ll accept it.”
Jackson spoke to The Undefeated shortly after an independent autopsy, performed by medical examiner Michael Baden at the request of Floyd’s family, determined that his cause of death was asphyxia compression of the neck and back. The medical examiner’s report says that Floyd died when his heart stopped while police restrained him and compressed his neck but did not cite asphyxiation.
Chauvin was arrested last week and charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. The three other police officers involved in Floyd’s arrest — Tou Thao, J. Alexander Keung and Thomas K. Lane — were fired but have not had any criminal charges levied against them.
“What I already knew — he was murdered,” Jackson said. “Pressure on his neck. We all knew he was murdered. See, the only people that’s protecting [Chauvin] act like they don’t have common sense. … The [independent] autopsy is telling the truth of what we already knew: He was murdered.”
Jackson said he “expected” the other officers to remain free but is hopeful that won’t be the case.
“Coming into this, I’ve seen so many situations not pan out right,” Jackson said. “I’ve seen the impossible happen also. And I think this is that situation. I think this [is] going to be the change. My brother’s death is going to be change. I think we’re going to get convictions for all of them. I think they’re drawing it out right now because this is the typical system. That’s why we got to change the rules — they look out for each other. They try their best to look out for each other. So this is expected by me.
“But we’re going to fight. This is a marathon. And we’re going to continue this fight, and we’re going to outfight them. We’re not going to stop. We’re going to keep this thing going. They’re going to get tired of hearing about George Floyd. They’re going to get tired of hearing his name.”
Jackson said the events of the past week have changed him for good.
“I’m telling you: I came [to Minneapolis] as a different person,” Jackson said. “I’m going to be here. I’m in for the long haul. … I didn’t ask for this role. I embraced it, and people are looking to be to led. So I got to do it.”