Concern spread through the Milwaukee Bucks locker room following Friday’s road game against the Toronto Raptors. The Bucks were scheduled to fly back to Milwaukee hours after President Donald Trump issued an executive order for U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials to ban immigrants from seven predominantly Muslim nations from entering the country, and the team’s 10th overall pick, Sudanese-born forward Thon Maker, was naturally on the plane back to his adopted home in America.
Maker was born in war-torn Wau, Sudan, now part of independent South Sudan. Sudan is among the countries listed on Trump’s order, along with Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Yemen; South Sudan is not. Maker’s family escaped to Uganda when he was 5 years old, and they moved to Australia as refugees thereafter. He emigrated to the U.S. in 2011, where he played high school basketball for three years until finishing his prep career in Canada. He travels on an Australian passport, and Bucks officials confirmed Saturday the 19-year-old returned from Toronto to Milwaukee without incident.
“He’s back,” Bucks senior vice president Alexander Lasry, the son of Milwaukee’s team owner and Moroccan immigrant Marc Lasry, said in response to concern from fans on Twitter. “But we have to pray for those who aren’t as lucky. This is a massive problem and not who we are as a country.”
The younger Lasry, who worked under former President Barack Obama’s White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett, expanded on his thoughts about Trump’s executive order on social media Saturday:
“I appreciate all the fans’ concerns and prayers for Thon,” he added, “and today a Sudanese refugee who fled oppression and is an incredible young man will make his second NBA start. I’m incredibly excited and proud of him. He’s a symbol of what makes America great and all immigrants believe about America. But what’s going on in the U.S. right now isn’t about Thon. It’s about all the other incredible immigrants and refugees who will make the U.S. a better place that can’t come into our country. This is not who owe are as a country and doesn’t live up to our ideals.
“Sorry and let me continue by saying what Trump says about immigrants and refugees just isn’t what I see. I see incredible people who come here to create a better life for their families. It’s why my dad’s family came here from Morocco. We must continue to share the stories of incredible immigrants and refugees who make America GREAT. Proud that Thon and my dad will be shining examples every day.”
Not long after NBA leadership reached out to the State Department regarding “how this executive order would apply to players in our league who are from one of the impacted countries” — namely Maker and Los Angeles Lakers forward Luol Deng (a British citizen also born in Wau, Sudan) — a federal judge ruled a significant portion of Trump’s policy unconstitutional, allowing immigrants with valid visas or refugee status to enter the country without risk of being detained by border police.
On Saturday night, Maker indeed made his second career NBA start, against the Boston Celtics.
By Sunday morning, Trump’s administration was already negotiating publicly for a compromise that would allow for “extreme vetting” of immigrants — including those with green cards, dual citizenship and perhaps even people from more countries than the seven originally listed — and that is of particular concern to members of the NBA competing in a “a global league” with many Muslim players.
Brooklyn Nets forward Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, a Muslim born and raised in Pennsylvania, got choked up while discussing the subject with New York-based reporters prior to Saturday’s game against the Minnesota Timberwolves (who also feature Muslim players Gorgui Dieng and Shabazz Muhammad).
People can say what they want, but being denied ACCESS to see your grandchild graduate or to go back to your country is inhumane. #MuslimBan
— R.HollisJefferson (@RondaeHJ24) January 29, 2017
“We try to teach people not to point the finger, blame a whole [group]. You can’t judge a whole group by one’s actions at the end of the day. And I feel like that’s not right. That’s definitely not right,’’ Hollis-Jefferson said Saturday before they faced the Timberwolves. “You can’t speak for all Muslims, because all Muslims’ hearts aren’t like that. Most of them are pure, really believe in a different way and a different livelihood.”
At that point, Hollis-Jefferson had to look away at the Target Center wall, and compose himself, apologizing for getting emotional.
“This is kind of hard. My bad. This is kind of touching … just being a part of that community and a part of that family,’’ Hollis-Jefferson said. “I feel like this should definitely be handled differently, and I feel like more people should definitely speak up and act on it just because it’s B.S. at the end of the day.”
“I kind of feel like things could be handled differently. Me being Muslim, me knowing a lot of Muslims, it’s definitely, definitely heartbreaking to see,’’ said Hollis-Jefferson, who was born in Pennsylvania. “A lot of my college friends are Muslims, and their families are in some of those countries. Just seeing that, my heart goes out to them, how they feel about it and everything. It’s definitely a tough situation to put people in.”
A number of Muslim NBA players, past and present, echoed Hollis-Jefferson’s thoughts on the ban:
— Enes Kanter (@Enes_Kanter) January 29, 2017
A photo posted by Kenneth Faried (@kennethfaried35) on Jan 28, 2017 at 9:55pm PST
It's a tough day when u find out that so many ppl that u thought were fans or friends really hate u and everything u believe in.
— Nazr Mohammed (@NazrMohammed) January 28, 2017
Former NBA player Nazr Mohammed is a Muslim raised by Ghanan immigrants in Chicago, where his father was murdered. Soon after posting the above tweet, he was inundated with support on Twitter:
I appreciate all the love and support. It has exceeded my expectations and definitely outweighs the ignorance of the few.
— Nazr Mohammed (@NazrMohammed) January 29, 2017
Neither Maker nor Deng are scheduled to travel to Toronto again this regular season, but the Bucks could face the Raptors in the playoffs. On Sunday, White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus suggested on “Meet the Press” that immigrants like Maker would “likely to be subjected to further questioning when you come into an airport,” so this is surely not the last we will hear of this issue in the NBA.
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