By Jim Souhan/Star Tribune
Dwane Casey is one of three black men who have coached the Minnesota Timberwolves.
He owns the third-best winning percentage of the 13 Wolves head coaches in franchise history.
From 2005 to ’07, he lived in downtown Minneapolis. Now coaching the Pistons, Casey was at his home in Detroit when he first saw video of Derek Chauvin kneeling on the neck of George Floyd.
“I knew it was going to be something big,” Casey said in a phone conversation this week. “It was a public lynching. Even with the camera rolling, he had a look on his face that made my stomach turn. I think that’s why you see the uproar around the country, the look on his face as he kept his knee on George Floyd’s neck, as three other cops stood around watching with no remorse that they had this human being on the ground, dying.
“I felt that clip right there was the beginning of the changes going on right now. If you had any decency at all as a human being, that hurt you to the middle of your soul.”
Casey, 63, coached the Wolves from 2005 until Kevin McHale fired him in 2007. McHale replaced him with Randy Wittman when the Wolves were 20-20. Wittman finished his two-season stint with a .266 winning percentage.
McHale should not have fired Casey, who made the playoffs in his previous six coaching seasons with Toronto and Detroit. That is a sporting injustice. Casey preferred to speak to American injustices, and how his league has reacted to the latest unjust killings of people of colour in our country. “I felt for Minneapolis,” he said. “Not the police, but the people.”
Casey is lending his voice to the chorus. So have other black NBA head coaches, such as Doc Rivers. What is different about the NBA is that so many white head coaches have done more than shake their heads about the killing of Floyd. San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr, Utah Jazz coach Quin Snyder and Timberwolves coach Ryan Saunders have taken stands against police brutality and systemic racism.
In a perfect world, black coaches wouldn’t need the support of white coaches, but Casey believes they make a difference.
“We have a commissioner, Adam Silver, who allows us and encourages us to speak our minds,” said Casey, the 2018 NBA Coach of the Year. “I’m so proud of my colleagues. I love that Steve and Gregg and Quin have stepped up. I love what Ryan has said. I really wonder what Flip (Saunders) would think about what’s going on in Minneapolis.
“Doc said it last year. If black coaches complain, then we’re just angry black men. Even though we have the right to speak out, it carries a lot more weight when white coaches say it. I hope the ones who are not speaking up take a stand and step up and do so. We are supposed to be leaders of men.”
Casey was a gracious and approachable presence in Minneapolis. “Living there for two years and meeting the good people there, I know what happened doesn’t represent the majority of the people in that city,” he said. “I did meet a lot of great white people, and Somalis, and African Americans. I do know that the city is a melting pot.
“You wouldn’t imagine that what happened would happen in Minneapolis. The population did not reflect that attitude. Maybe the police department, but not the population.”
The Kentucky native expressed guarded optimism about his league, and his country.
“I’m hopeful because I see so many different races and backgrounds and religions on the protest front speaking out,” said Casey, whose Pistons will not be part of the NBA restart next month. “Growing up in the South, starting school during segregation and being a part of forced integration, I’ve seen the good and the bad in the South.
“The good thing about this time is that I see people who want to change, people fighting to change the way the police treat African Americans. Yes, these things give me hope.”
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