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Dominique Wilkins: Time to talk about racism

Dominique Wilkins | 4/29/2014, 3 p.m.
Dominique Wilkins, retired professional basketball player and a vice president of basketball operations with the Atlanta Hawks, was an NBA All-Star nine times and is one of the all-time leading scorers in the history of the NBA. In 2006, Wilkins was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame. CNN

— I am extremely proud of NBA Commissioner Adam Silver. He made the exact right move in banning Donald Sterling from the NBA for life and fining him $2.5 million for his offensive, racist comments. It sets a definitive tone not only for how we deal with racism in the NBA but also how we should be dealing with it in the country as a whole.

I am not a politician. I am not a legislator. I'm not an activist. I do have fame. I do have accolades. I played professional basketball. But all of this aside, I am a man, a black man.

I grew up in the inner-city street projects of Baltimore, moving to North Carolina when I was 16. My passion and love for a round orange ball has taken me to unimaginable heights, earning me a measure of success in the NBA. I have lived the majority of my life in the bright and narrow cast of a spotlight, so I know what it is like to live with the obligation to shape words into politically correct statements, and to mute my thoughts in moments of emotion. At times it is my job to do so.

Hearing about, and then listening to, the Donald Sterling recordings early Saturday left me and my NBA family disgusted. As one of the premiere professional leagues in the world, we take pride in carrying the banner as one of the most diverse sports industries, with a commitment to fair racial hiring practices. More than 80% of our players are men of color, and well over a third of them are African-American.

Again, I'm no activist. I have turned down more press requests and interviews surrounding the abhorrent comments of Sterling in the past two days than I care to number. And just when I thought I would refocus my energy on the most evenly matched NBA playoffs in my recollection, CNN offered me the opportunity to depress my mute button and comment on what has become a much bigger story than one man's racist comments.

Racism is a real problem that has survived through generations and generations in this country. It is time to use the opportunity to further the race discussion.

Let me be clear. In my career as a basketball player and now as an executive with the Atlanta Hawks organization, I have never been subjected to racism in my workplace. But there is racism, sexism, bigotry everywhere in our society. As a black man growing up in the South, I have, of course, experienced it.

There are many stories surrounding the Sterling recordings; the motivation, who was involved, and so on. But the focus needs to turn to whether or not we will allow a multibillion dollar league and a country of multicultural influences to be consumed by the news cycle noise.

The conversation must continue on a broader scale. This is bigger than basketball.

Will this moment fade into the background? Or will we as leaders of industry and community meet the need for continued discussion about the prevalence of racism in our country?