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The Color of Acceptance

www.ReboundMagazine.com

As an NBA alumnus, I've been a member of the NBRPA for the last 9 years, enjoying the opportunities to make new friends, rekindle old friendships, and fraternize with former opponents and teammates.  As I've grown and matured, the Legends of Basketball has become an important part of my life.

The inaugural issue of REBOUND, the NBRPA magazine made its debut at the All-Star Weekend where part of the weekend's agenda is a salute to Black History Month. I'm happy that my first official letter from the editor was about Black History Month, something near and dear to my heart.

Growing up in small town Iowa as a white kid in an all-white town from a predominantly white state, racial diversity wasn't available to me when I was young. Then during my freshman year in middle school, my family decided to host a foreign exchange student for a year.  For the first time in my life I was going to meet someone from outside my limited world.

Enter my newest brother, Solomon Simon Dude, a South African from a tribe called Xhosa.  This was during the mid-80s when Apartheid was the law in South Africa. What a great experience it was for all of us in my small town to have a black person now living there. Even though he was the "odd man out," Solomon was accepted with open arms by everyone in town due to his gigantic smile and loving personality.  But after living with us for a year, we learned that his mother (a single parent) had passed away which left Solomon's younger brother all alone.

Enter Theophalis Mowanga Dude, my other black brother. Thanks to an unrelenting battle waged by my mother to get both boys a green card, Theo was allowed to come to Iowa and live with us to finish his schooling from fifth grade through high school while Solomon went on to college, eventually graduating from the University of Iowa.

Sports diversity in my area wasn't much better than racial diversity-basketball is Iowa's sport of choice. (or maybe wrestling) So having signed a Division 1 scholarship before I started a varsity game in high school, I began my basketball career in college that grew into a 10-year career playing the game professionally. But this time the tables were turned and I was the "token white guy" on several different professional teams.

I felt the love of my brothers Solomon and Theo as I became the "odd man out," learning what it felt like being in the minority. As I embraced the differences, I hoped that others would feel the same way. And just like Solomon, I was accepted with open arms after teammates got to know me and what I stood for. I realized that what most of us are looking for is a feeling of belonging and acceptance, a lesson I now teach my own children. As professional athletes, as role models for many, we have a wonderful opportunity to highlight the importance of diversity-it really does represent the universal need for belonging and acceptance no matter what our color.


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