Michael Holley

From Rodney King to George Floyd: How we've changed — and haven't — in 28 years

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From Rodney King to George Floyd: How we've changed — and haven't — in 28 years

I was one week shy of my college graduation, in the spring of 1992, when the news broke that Los Angeles was on fire. The city was being burned and looted, many of its residents furious over a shocking acquittal.

One year earlier, Rodney King was hogtied, beaten and kicked 56 times in 81 seconds by four LA police officers. A bystander videotaped the incident, and jurors viewed it during the trial. Their verdict for the officers came in ’92, and it was a clean sweep: Ten separate not-guilty counts, including excessive use of force as a police officer.

This has been a long week of reflection for me, and the spring of ’92 is just one reminder of how much we’ve changed — and haven’t — in the 28 years since.

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I can still remember my agitation over the verdict. I remember my refusal to accept the logic that the King jury composition (10 whites, one Asian-American, one Latino) led to the acquittal.

You’re telling me they can’t see or grasp the injustice of it because they’re mostly white and he’s black? Nonsense! That’s a copout.

I remember my anger and impatience.

There were politicians, preachers, and pundits all saying some version of the same thing: This event was a historical tipping point, we’d all have to do better, and respectfully listening to one another was a good place to start.

That was the scene from ’92. Many of the snapshots then are similar to what we’ve had in the country this week. 

George Floyd was murdered in plain sight when a Minneapolis police officer, Derek Chauvin, kneeled on his neck.

I say that and the 22-year-old me, idealistic and full of righteous indignation, wants to believe that what I just wrote is enough. He wants to believe that a democracy, and its people, will prevail… so much so that the unjust act — a public servant literally using his power to kill a handcuffed citizen — will lead to outcries before we even talk about the race of the perpetrator or victim.

Are we there yet? At the tipping point, I mean. Or is that something we say because it’s too painful to confront that our moral compass is either outdated or broken?

I’m not as idealistic as I was at 22, but I’m more hopeful now than I was then. There are personal and professional reasons for that. My faith is stronger. My family is bigger; I’m not just fighting for myself anymore. And when I go to work, the voices are louder.

What do I mean by that?

I already told you that I was a week from graduation when the King verdict was announced. Well, the next week, I started my first job.

I was a sportswriter near Cleveland, and the Cavaliers were in the playoffs. Suddenly I was talking to and writing about some of the best athletes in the world. I don’t say this as a judgment, but just as an example of changing times: None of those athletes talked about protesting. None of them used the platform to bring awareness to conditions in the country then that still exist now.

That year, the Cavs played the Celtics in the conference semifinals and the Bulls in the finals. It was incredible to see Larry Bird and Michael Jordan perform in person, but that’s all the top stars of that time — across all our major sports — were willing and expected to give.

The early 1990s sports culture was one of compartmentalizing. I’m glad that we’re not there anymore. I was inspired to see Jaylen Brown, 23, participating in an Atlanta protest and Marcus Smart, 26, doing the same thing in Boston. As crazy as this sounds, I was encouraged to hear Brad Stevens state the obvious in that “every decent person is hurting’’ over Floyd’s death.

For too long, many people haven’t stated the obvious — or anything at all. For too long, we’ve observed blatant distortions of justice, offered some clichés, and fallen back into our familiar patterns. I don’t know if this case has pushed us to a new place as a nation. No idea.

I do know this: None of us has the luxury of being silent or leaving the work to someone else. When the chaos ends, the last thing we need to do is go back to normal.

Why is there a need to debate the 'Tom Brady or Bill Belichick' question?

Why is there a need to debate the 'Tom Brady or Bill Belichick' question?

Tom Brady left town 10 weeks ago. That’s it. It’s only been two and a half months.

But in that short time, one of the worst questions of the last 20 years has emerged, and I’m afraid it’s lurking in a corner of your neighborhood:

Brady or Belichick?

As in, who’s more important? Or, what would one’s career be without the other? There’s the familiar, how many Super Bowls would they have won on their own? And: whose side are you on now that they’ve separated?

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The big question, which leads the army of the other annoying ones, is not new. I used to wait for it as I appeared on radio shows in other markets. I’d sit there patiently, knowing that it was coming toward the end of the interview in the form of, “One last thing before we let you go… and we’ve been debating this here for a while….”

Quiet sigh.

Eye roll.

Then my stock answer: Fortunately, in New England, we don’t have to look at it that way. It’s the perfect combination of quarterback and coach, and they work best together.

I’d finish with whatever duo analogy I was feeling that day (Lennon and McCartney; Thelma and Louise) and then hang up, feeling sorry for the people outside of New England who just didn’t get it.

Then Brady messed around and went to Tampa.

Suddenly the question that never had to be New England’s began popping up in New England. Tom Brady or Bill Belichick? It’s the ultimate intoxicant that doesn’t need an answer, and still sucks you in anyway.

It built slowly after Brady left the Patriots. He went on with Howard Stern and said the Brady-Belichick debate was a “shitty argument.” He told Stern, “To have him allowed me to be the best I can be, so I’m grateful for that. I very much believe that he feels the same way about me, because we’ve expressed that to each other.’’

It seemed that most people, especially here, agreed that picking just one was unnecessary.

You have memories and “3-28” shirts and Richard Sherman memes because Tom and Bill were together. It seems silly to take sides now. That feeling got a challenge when Rob Gronkowski came out of a 13-month retirement and absolutely picked Brady over Belichick.

The Tom or Bill lines got even heavier last week when Brady had the nerve to voluntarily organize a group of his new Tampa teammates, trying to get a head start on the season. The controversy being that he’s willing to do for the Bucs what he didn’t for the Patriots.

For 18 seasons in a row, Brady walked and talked and even negotiated like a Patriot. He attended voluntary camps, pretended to be happy throwing to Chris Hogan, and never publicly shared his thoughts with Howard Stern. He was a company man. He was that as a 23-year-old kid wearing a backwards baseball cap, and he was that as a 40-year-old man wearing a grown man’s fedora.

I’m sure Belichick wasn’t pleased that his quarterback skipped voluntary workouts for two years. Then again, the coach got outsized quarterbacking value — in every way imaginable — in those 18 that Brady was there.

Besides, I always get some cheap entertainment when I imagine where the outcries about voluntary camp are coming from. I don’t know about you, but I’ve worked with some folks over the years who volunteer nothing and, on the contrary, want days off for everything from Sweetest Day to Arbor Day to Canadian Thanksgiving. Don’t make me name names.

But seriously, beyond that, what is it about this particular tandem that makes people want to assess the individual value?

Most of the time in dynasties, the partnership is praised rather than parsed. Did anyone feel the need to pick Red or Russell? Popovich or Duncan? Montana or Walsh? In the last example, which Brady knows well because it’s his hometown team, Walsh is linked to Montana even though Montana won his last Super Bowl without him.

Even before Brady went to Florida, the Tom or Bill question was out there. I dismissed it then because it was someone else’s problem. Now, I’m convinced, it’s there to taunt me.

No matter what happens, don’t let the either/or, this or that people win. Tom is in Florida, Bill is in Massachusetts and the right answer, still, is both.

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Celtics can thank Michael Jordan for allowing them to draft Paul Pierce

Celtics can thank Michael Jordan for allowing them to draft Paul Pierce

After a month of watching "The Last Dance," you know all the things Michael Jordan did for the Chicago Bulls.

But he also gave the Celtics a huge, unintentional assist.

Let’s say it another way: Thanks to Michael Jordan, the Celtics had the opportunity to enjoy 15 seasons of Paul Pierce.

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In June 1997, Bulls general manager Jerry Krause was on the verge of completing a deal with the Celtics’ Rick Pitino. I was covering the Celtics at the time for the Boston Globe and my colleague, Peter May, had the story ready to go. The Bulls would get the third and sixth picks in the draft along with a player (probably Eric Williams), and the Celtics would receive Scottie Pippen and Luc Longley.

What does that have to do with Pierce, who was still at Kansas? Hold on. We’re getting there.

The trade actually would have been good for what both Krause and Pitino wanted at the time. Krause, as the series explained so well, was looking ahead to a rebuild. He planned to select Tracy McGrady and Ron Mercer with those picks, and he would have gotten them. Pitino wanted to take away the sting of losing the draft lottery — and Tim Duncan — and was desperate to make the playoffs in his first year.

With Pippen and Longley, Pitino would have gotten his wish of a 45- to 47-win team, if not better.

The presence of those two would have strengthened the roster in other ways, too. There wouldn’t have been Pitino’s disastrous panic signing of Travis Knight. You can’t make this stuff up: Because Pitino didn’t know the salary cap — no joke — he didn’t realize that bringing in Knight forced him to get rid of Rick Fox, which he didn’t want to do.

So take away that error and you still have Fox as a valuable starter/role player here instead of an eventual champion/actor in Los Angeles.

Jordan shut it all down. 

He’d already promised to retire if the Bulls didn’t bring back Phil Jackson (they did), and now he was raging about the potential departure of the versatile Pippen. The Bulls went on to win their sixth title and the Celtics, with 36 wins, dropped into the lottery. They got the 10th pick and smartly and happily took Pierce.

(A what-if for another day is imagining who the Celtics would be if Pitino had gotten his preferred player in that draft, Dirk Nowitzki.)

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Looking up at the Garden rafters now, and looking through the Celtics’ record books, there’s a good lesson on patience somewhere in there. Pierce is either ranked first, second or third in at least a dozen categories in franchise history. He helped break a generational championship drought and picked up a Finals MVP along the way.

As for Pippen, his trade here would have been received well in ’97 because Pitino got the benefit of the doubt on everything he did then. Clearly, I feel some kind of way about it; don’t get me started.

After the Bulls’ Last Dance, it was a last dance of sorts for Pippen as well. He was never an All Star after ’98, and Pierce was better than Pippen by his second year in the league.

If the unfolding of Pierce’s story provides a lesson on patience, one of my small-print takeaways from "The Last Dance" is that it shows the flaws of arrogance. It served Jordan well on the court, and I still haven’t seen a better player, stylist, and international phenomenon. But with all those years he spent watching Krause, and making fun of him, he missed an opportunity to learn some team-building techniques from him.

Krause had one of the best 10-year runs of general managing in the history of the sport, highlighted by his discovery of Phil Jackson, drafting of Pippen, and trade for Dennis Rodman. A talented team builder, Jordan is not.

But I’m nitpicking. Jordan was clutch in the front-office move that matters to us. He shut down a trade and Pierce wound up here because of it.

Thanks, Mike.