'We've been waiting for centuries' — NBA legend Isiah Thomas calls on all Americans to fight racism

  • NBA legend Isiah Thomas implored all Americans to do more to fight racial injustice, pointing to the wave of protests this week from professional athletes as inspiration. 
  • "We've been waiting for centuries now for us to have this conversation about the oppressive … system that Blacks are forced to live under in this country," Thomas said on CNBC's "Squawk on the Street." 
  • "I think it's been a historical moment for social justice and also in sport," added the two-time NBA champion. 

NBA legend Isiah Thomas on Friday implored all Americans to do more to fight racial injustice, pointing to the wave of protests this week from professional athletes as inspiration. 

"We've been waiting for centuries now for us to have this conversation about the oppressive … system that Blacks are forced to live under in this country," Thomas said on CNBC's "Squawk on the Street." "What I see that's happening in our country is eerily very similar to what we were marching and fighting against back in the '60s, the '50s, the '70s, the '80s, the '90s and now into the 2000s." 

Thomas, a two-time NBA champion with the Detroit Pistons and a member of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, noted that his comments Friday came on the 57th anniversary of the March on Washington in 1963, where Martin Luther King Jr. gave his historic "I Have a Dream" speech. 

Then, as now, Thomas said demonstrators are simply asking: "Let us have an equal opportunity in terms of the American dream." 

The movement for racial justice that is sweeping the U.S. this summer — sparked in May by the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis and again this week by the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin — is grassroots, Thomas said. 

"This is an organic uprising of all different classified races and colors out in the streets, marching and protesting, saying we want a better America for all, not just for one classified class of people," he said. 

Thomas cheered the decision by professional athletes this week to protest the shooting of Blake by sitting out games. It started Wednesday with the Milwaukee Bucks, who chose not to play their first-round playoff game against the Orlando Magic, and spread quickly to other leagues such as the WNBA and MLB. 

"I think it's been a historical moment for social justice and also in sport," said Thomas, who complimented the players and leagues for using their platforms to "get America's attention to say, 'Hey, what is happening is wrong here.'" 

Thomas, who grew up poor on Chicago's West Side and has become an active businessman after his NBA career, pushed back on people who have criticized the protests in sports. 

On Thursday, for example, White House senior advisor Jared Kushner told CNBC, "I think that the NBA players are very fortunate that they have the financial position where they're able to take a night off from work without having to have the consequences to themselves financially." 

Thomas responded by saying: "The NBA players are fortunate. The NFL players are fortunate economically because they can afford to lose money but to bring voice to the voiceless. That's what this is all about, in terms of sports and entertainment." He added that Black professional athletes and their families are not somehow immune to racism and police brutality. 

"So what has been termed a night off was really a work stoppage and a boycott to bring attention to what is happening in our America. And when I say our America, I'm talking Black and White," Thomas said. "First we are all Americans and then we are put down into these racial categories of Black and White. But first we are Americans."  

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