Former Milwaukee Bucks center John Henson recounts racial profiling incident

Speaking to the New York Times, former Milwaukee Bucks big man John Henson recounted when he was racially profiled nearly five years ago while in Milwaukee.

Over the last 36 hours and counting, the Milwaukee Bucks have not just been at the center of the sports world, but the world at large.

The decision of all 16 Bucks players to walk out of Game 5 of their first round series with the Orlando Magic Wednesday afternoon has sparked the wave of protests and strikes that we’re seeing across various sports around the country, including the NBA itself.

While the NBA is reportedly looking to resume their season down in the bubble, the Bucks’ courageousness and bravery has certainly caught the attention of many people, including former Bucks player and veteran NBA center, John Henson.

Henson talked with the New York Times’ Scott Cacciola Thursday to recount his own experience with racial profiling back in October of 2015 during his six-and-a-half year stint with the Bucks.

As is detailed in the piece, Henson called and went to a jewelry store located in a Milwaukee suburb with a couple of friends as a way of celebrating the four-year, $44 million extension he signed with the Bucks that summer.

Upon arrival, Henson stood in front of the door of the store, which was locked by the owner of the jewelry store as she hid in the backroom and called the police on Henson, citing suspicious activity because of the Chevrolet Tahoe he was driving. When Henson and the plates on his purchased Tahoe checked out to police, he was invited to go in, but the store’s owner still proceeded to push back on Henson coming into the store until she requested that the police stay while Henson was shopping through the store.

Henson reflected to Cacciola on the pure emotion and degradation he felt after his encounter and disclosed how hard it still is for him to talk about nearly five years later.

“When I got back to my car, I cried,” he said. “I had to let it out. It was something that I never thought would happen to me in this day and age. Not in the city where I played. Even now, it’s hard for me to talk about.”

With the support of the organization, Henson discussed how talking about the incident in the aftermath of it throughout schools in Milwaukee helped create a dialogue for talking about racism and prejudice:

“We decided that we were going to tell this story and make it an open forum,” Henson said. “We’re going to talk about what happened, and what can be done. And I think it was a great success, because we got all these high schoolers and middle schoolers to talk about their feelings, about prejudice, about how to act and treat one another.”

Of course, Henson hasn’t been the only Bucks player to endure a race-related experience in recent memory, with Sterling Brown’s wrongful arrest resonating even louder now amid all the racial tension and police brutality that continues to occur all over the country. And Henson overlapped with Brown and many current Bucks players before being traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers in December of 2018.

On that note, Henson admired his former teammates from afar as they staged their Game 5 walkout and talked about the character of all 16 of those Bucks players and trying to inspire change in their home state, even more than 1,250 miles away down in Lake Buena Vista:

“It’s really indicative of those guys in that locker room,” Henson said. “Just making this type of noise is something that can bring awareness. At some point, it needs to be a loud enough message so that everyone says, ‘Hey, this is not OK.’ And I think this is a start…

“Because if they weren’t in that bubble, maybe the Milwaukee guys could go to Kenosha and help promote peace and nonviolent protest and maybe even help calm things down,” he said. “But they can’t, and I get that they feel stuck.”

Next: Bucks’ impact goes beyond bubble, reviving calls for action on racial injustice

Henson’s story is only of many and millions can unfortunately tell not just in Milwaukee, but throughout the country and entire world. By telling it, hopefully something good can come of it in the fight for equality and the battle to combat the racism that exists all around us.

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