Canada's Joel Anthony says racism not limited to U.S. as basketball career comes home

Joel Anthony says he's experienced more racism in Canada than in the United States. On May 21, the Montreal native and 10-year NBA veteran signed with the CEBL's Hamilton Honey Badgers as a player consultant four days before the death of George Floyd.

National team fixture recently joined CEBL's Honey Badgers as player consultant

Canadian Joel Anthony, seen above playing for the Miami Heat in 2010, recently joined the Canadian Elite Basketball League's Hamilton Honey Badgers as a player consultant for the 2020 season. (Charlie Riedel/The Associated Press)

Joel Anthony says he's experienced more racism in Canada than in the United States.

On May 21, the Montreal native and 10-year NBA veteran signed with the Hamilton Honey Badgers of the Canadian Elite Basketball League (CEBL) as a player consultant.

That announcement came four days before George Floyd died after a Minneapolis police officer kneeled on his neck. Protests and civil unrest soon erupted throughout the U.S., in Canada and around the globe.

Anthony says that just because Canada may not have the same history of violent racism as the U.S., doesn't mean Canadians aren't affected by racism.

"I feel if anything, there should be more awareness when it does occur in Canada so that people understand like look, it may not be a heinous act of someone being executed, but there's still racism, there's still police brutality, there's still profiling, there's still systematic racism," Anthony says.

Anthony is best known in the NBA for his time with the Miami Heat from 2007 to 2014, where he won two titles alongside LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade. He had previously spent two years with Pensacola Junior College in Florida and three with the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

The six-foot-nine, 245-pound centre was also a fixture of Canada's men's basketball team after making his senior debut in 2008.

After his NBA career ended in 2017, Anthony played in Argentina before retiring from professional basketball last year.

Anthony, right, drives past Brazil's Tiago Splitter during a FIBA Americas Championship basketball game in 2011. (Martin Mejia/The Associated Press)

But it was a racist incident at a Zellers grocery store in Montreal when Anthony was 18 that he says still causes him trauma. He says he was walking around the store with a bag on his way to work looking for something to buy when he felt he was being followed.

After leaving empty-handed, an employee ran out after him, accused him of shoplifting and said "make sure you don't come back."

"I remember I was so shocked and my heart was racing because I can't believe that this has really happened to me right now, for someone to say that to me when I've literally done nothing wrong, minding my own business, thinking I'm a regular customer like anyone else looking for something, but obviously in someone else's eyes I'm not seen as that," Anthony says.

"So that was one of my main introductions to racism back home and it was something."

Now back in Canada, Anthony implores Canadians not to turn a "blind eye" to racism at home.

"There's also been some instances in the U.S., but personally I've dealt with that more in Canada when I've been back home in Montreal and so for me it's definitely something that is very real. I know it is because I've seen it firsthand."

#Hoodiesup protest

In 2012, Anthony was playing for the Heat when an unarmed Trayvon Martin, a Black 17-year-old, was fatally shot by George Zimmerman in an incident with racial overtones.

Anthony's teammates collectively decided to speak out on the incident, given that it happened in their home state.

"With a lot of guys being fathers to Black sons that look just like Trayvon, it definitely hit home," Anthony says. "It's a lot more difficult to deal with something like that once you feel it starts to get more of a reality that you could be in that parent's situation, that that could be your child."

The conversation resulted in James tweeting out a picture of the team bowing their heads and wearing hoodies, as Martin did when he was shot. James tweeted "#WeAreTrayvonMartin #Hoodies #Stereotyped #WeWantJustice."

"Our team definitely played a part in the activism and showing that it is OK, and if anything it's the right thing to do, to voice your opinions and views on matters outside of sports and to be heard," Anthony says.

Anthony says it's incidents like the one that happened to him at 18, just one year older than Martin at the time of his death, that makes racism "very real."

"There's this trauma from things like that because I was always extra cautious about how I moved when I was in stores after that. And I shouldn't have to think about if I'm going through a Zellers or something, someone's going to think I took something when I haven't done anything. I shouldn't have to feel like that," he says.

Honey Badgers career on hold

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, Anthony hasn't been able to step right into the full extent of his role as player consultant in Hamilton. However, he expects to assist with the coaching staff while using his NBA experience to train the players when games return.

Coaching wasn't something Anthony considered until then Heat assistant coach David Fizdale told him his basketball IQ and experience would make him well-suited to the role.

Anthony joined the NBA's coaching program a few months ago to learn more about the job. It worked out well when Honey Badgers general manager and former Team Canada teammate Jermaine Anderson came calling to gauge Anthony's interest in joining the Hamilton organization.

"I want to be able to lend my experiences to them and I want other guys to be able to succeed and to be able to have a lot more success and if I can help them do that, then that's all I could really ask for," Anthony says.

Anthony sees the CEBL as a reputable league that can attract a range of players due to the level of competition.

"It's not just a summer league where it's a little bit more casual in terms of how everyone approaches it," he says. "This is more like a league where it is a lot more serious and the competition I feel will be great."

However, the current season remains in flux due to COVID-19. The league proposed a one-city tournament with its seven teams to the Ontario government in May, but it's yet to be seen whether that occurs.

Anthony says he's looking forward to getting to work.

"Since I'm only coming off of a one-year retirement, I feel I could actually be out there on the court with them a little bit."

Hamilton was originally scheduled to tip off its season May 8 in Edmonton.

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