Washington, D.C. — Growing up in Kentucky, Pistons coach Dwane Casey was familiar with the Civil Rights Movement and the work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to garner equal rights in the United States.
King worked to create opportunities for all people and with the Pistons playing on the holiday to commemorate the King’s work, Casey reflected on the significance of the day. He recalled the inequities and people hurling racial epithets toward him.
“Being from the South, my age group, I grew up when there was segregation. I grew up in an all-black elementary school and changed schools when I was in the fifth grade and had to fight every day in my first month of school,” Casey recalled. “The good thing about that is that the same guys I was fighting who were calling me the words are some of my best friends today, through sports. Playing on the same team, they saw I wasn’t an animal or a bad person, but a good teammate.”
Those experiences were tough for Casey to handle, but he used them as building blocks for his rise through sports to become an NBA head coach. He found a way to turn the negatives into positive friendships and learning to get past the hatred to form bonds with those same people.
More than that, Casey has seen where conditions have improved in America and the opportunities that are there for people of all races and cultures.
“The meaning of MLK Day is (incredible) to me — to see where our country has come from, from segregation to someone like myself from a poor, rural neighborhood being able to be an NBA coach and opportunities for women,” Casey said. “So many things have come about because of his passion and his belief and work to help cause equality, (for) all of our players, ourselves — and look how many African-American journalists are here. We all have something to be thankful for.”
Casey, 61, has seen so much in his childhood and his time in basketball, but wants to make sure others get the full gravity of how far the country has come. It’s not easy to impart to the younger generations the impact of the Ku Klux Klan or segregation, but having a holiday to celebrate Dr. King’s work and legacy is significant for him.
He said he tries to talk to the Pistons players and staff and especially to his family to ensure that they know the importance of the commemoration.
“I saw it first-hand — I saw the Klan in Kentucky. I’ll never forget that as a young kid. This day means more to me than you’ll ever know,” Casey said. “(I talk with players and) with my wife and children. It’s hard for them to understand because of their age group.
“I think they do understand, but to truly go through it is the only time you really understand and feel it. I’m sure their parents understand it far more than they do.”
After the Pistons’ last-second loss to the Kings on Saturday night, with a controversial no-call on what looked to be a double-dribble by Buddy Hield on the winning shot, Casey said he brought up the point to the officials to review it, but they chose not to.
He said he’d be in favor of having coaches challenges for controversial calls in the NBA, similar to how the NFL does it.
“We’ve talked about it in the coaches association meetings. It’s very difficult because of the time constraints you have within the game,” Casey said. “If you can fit it in within the two-hour constraints we have in television, it could be effective.”
“I would like (challenges) in that situation, just like the football game yesterday. Nobody’s perfect: Coaches are not perfect, players are not perfect, and officials are not perfect.”
Casey didn’t want to go back into questioning the officials’ call; he’s already moved on — and the league's Last-Two-Minute Report confirmed that Hield didn’t double-dribble.
“Going back on the film, they have a good reason to say that. The guy made a tough shot; he fumbled a little bit and you could have said the control was a dribble, but they deemed it wasn’t,” Casey said. “You can’t argue with it — the game is over. Even if they said he had double-dribbled, what are we going to do? You can use that paper for other things.”
Andre Drummond, who missed Saturday’s game because of a nasal contusion suffered in the Heat game on Friday, was out again Monday. Casey said Drummond didn’t make the trip to Washington while he’s still in concussion protocol, but that he could return either Wednesday at New Orleans or Friday at Dallas if he passes the testing.
Ish Smith, who has been experiencing groin tightness, remains day-to-day.