- Programming note: Watch Monte Poole's interview with Ishmael Reed on "Race in America: A Candid Conversation" on Saturday night at approximately 9:30 p.m. on NBC Sports Bay Area (at the conclusion of "Dubs Talk Live").
The first thing to know about Ishmael Reed is that his writing credentials span the spectrum of the literary world from commentary and essays to novels and poetry and song lyrics to playwriting.
The second thing to know about Reed, 85, is that he is a devout activist who breathes fire through subjects real or imagined.
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So why, then, is this longtime Oakland resident writing a poem about basketball? To be specific, about the Golden State Warriors?
“I’ve listened to the commentary,” Reed says in an episode of “Race in America: A Candid Conversation” on NBC Sports Bay Area, which debuted Saturday night. “They get bad-mouthed so much. I’ve always been for the underdog. And in my opinion, the Warriors always have a puncher’s chance.”
Thus, the poem, as published in the Alta Journal in December 2023:
"Every shock jock with an expense account and
Every son of a gun
are saying that the Golden State Warriors are
over the hill and done
that the Splash brothers
have long since passed their prime
You can out-dribble your youthful
opponents they say
But you can’t out-dribble Father Time
Sitting behind microphones
They give the Dubs no
not enough stops, they say
too many turnovers, too many fouls,
too much Draymond
Blowing his top
But what’s being said now
has been said before
And the Warriors have more
than once evened the score
So, when you count them out
You’d better be sure
"Little Glove" will be back
He’ll pick their pocket
The opponent’s pest
He can go off on a
Looney can rebound
a Watusi in a clench
Kuminga shoots like
A fireball off the bench
and when they maim
Steph. in every game
while the referees look
Andrew, Moses, and
Klay come through
When the youngsters
get risky with the ball
They receive counseling
from the veteran Chris Paul
be careful with
made during the
breaks, some of you
Instead of eating steak
You might end up
Golden State Warriors
Even as the Warriors navigate all manner of physical, mental and emotional challenges, Reed is among those who still believes in them. Much of his faith is based on the presence of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, dual sharpshooters for more than a decade with Golden State.
“I always think about Steph in the fourth quarter,” Reed says. “You never know when he’s going to go off. You never know when Klay is going to go off. And so are the backups. That’s why I say that you can’t count them out.”
The Warriors remain Reed’s favorite NBA team. He is staying loyal despite being deeply displeased with a decision they made a few years ago when ownership moved the team. After 48 years in Oakland, the Warriors in 2019 migrated to the new Chase Center.
“I was upset,” Reed says. “I really was upset. Because I thought they were abandoning their fan base.
“I think they should have remained in Oakland. We have like a religious following of the Warriors. I don’t think they ever would have been booed in Oakland. I think maybe there are too many high-tech people over in San Francisco who are accustomed to instant gratification. There’s a different aesthetic.”
Reed, who taught at multiple Ivy League schools and Cal-Berkeley (for 35 years) has a reputation for deep research. He has written more than 30 books, including “Mumbo Jumbo,” which critic Henry Louis Gates considers “among my top 10 books of all time,” as well as “The Complete Muhammad Ali,” which many consider the ultimate book not about Ali the boxer but Ali the complicated man.
He has won more prizes than he has places to put them. His opinions are diluted. Here are a few others he was willing to share:
On Draymond Green:
“Ghetto Black man. Some of the others on the team represent the upper classes. They lived in communities where there are very few Black people.
“But I think Draymond is the kind of guy, everyday sort of guy, that you find in the kind of neighborhoods I’ve been living in. They have a keen sense of injustice. They’re quick to right wrongs. And they’re loud. I think Draymond may be a little bit too loud. This (Rudy) Gobert . . . some of the guys he got penalized for, some of them might be a little dirty themselves.”
On mainstream America’s transformation, from hating Ali to cherishing him:
“They like you when you’re dead. They used to talk about Martin Luther King like a dog. And now they’ve got a holiday. They love you when you’re dead or feeble.”
On former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who went from NBA phenomenon to pariah after peacefully protesting racial injustice:
“He was right on target. You can’t divorce what you do on the playing field or in the sports arena from politics. You can’t divorce the two. I thought he was very brave. He paid his dues, too.”
On NBA officiating and Curry:
“Some of the games the Warriors play, and they lost by a couple points, is because the referees look the other way when Steph is mauled and beaten up.”