An open letter to NBA star Ja Morant about your latest gun controversy: Soar, Ja, soar

Dear Ja, 

We all want to see you soar.

There’s this one clip of you continuously circulating through all of my group chats that consists of different basketball-loving people from different walks of life. I also see the same clip on all of my timelines. You probably know the clip; it is the one from back in 2022 where you dribble the ball a few times before blasting around a pick where Malik Beasley is patiently waiting to take a charge because he probably knew that jumping was a terrible idea. You run from the contact, you soar towards it, cocking the ball back so far that I thought your right hand was going to hit the back of your foot – and then with the force of God, you slammed the ball through the rim, causing the crowd to erupt and roar while making the internet break. 

I initially had to watch that clip three or four times because it seemed unreal. After realizing it was very real, I could only muster, “That kid Ja is going to change the game.” 

Ja, you have been changing the game since you came into the NBA. I’ve read all about your upbringing, how your dad – who also had dreams of being a pro, played high school ball with Ray Allen – had to put his plans aside once you were born. I also remember how commentators like Stephen A. Smith said that you would struggle in the NBA because of your size, 6-foot-2, and a modest 174-pound frame in a league full of 200-plus-pound giants. I love how you proved him and the rest of the doubters wrong. I loved that you purchased the mansion next door to your dad and how you included your daughter in the rollout of your new Nike shoe because Black families matter no matter how much society tries to make us think that it doesn’t. Thank you for helping to change that narrative. All of this is inspiring, beautiful and extremely necessary in these troubling times, which is why I get so upset when people minimize you down to the gun videos you and your friend’s post on social media. 

By now the world knows you were suspended for eight games earlier this season for flashing a gun on the Internet. The world also knows that you were recently suspended again from all team activities for doing the same thing. While I am from a different time and generation that prohibited us from pulling out guns unless we were going to use them, I would not dare condemn you or your actions. I do not know what it’s like to sign a $193 million contract at the age of 23. I don’t know about the threats you receive, I don’t know about the mountains of people that try to use you, I don’t know if you just love dancing with guns because it makes you feel good, I don’t know about the level of survivor’s remorse you have, I don’t know what is needed to cope within your reality.  

I’m sure that NRA won’t celebrate your love of guns and lobby the NBA in protection of your rights because you are not a white man.

I do know that you have not been convicted of any crimes and that the NBA, in combination with people who are jumping to speak on the topic, must acknowledge this before haphazardly doling out incomplete statements, punishments or even passing judgment. You are innocent, but you will still be put on trial, because you are Black, in America, and that is how these things work. Just as I’m sure that the NRA won’t celebrate your love of guns and lobby the NBA in protection of your rights because you are not a white man. 

America praises guns and the Second Amendment. This country is so sickly obsessed with firearms that weirdo Tennessee Rep. Andy Ogles even sent out a Christmas card where the whole family modeling with their firearm of choice. Too often, the conversations around gun violence are linked to the shootings that happen in inner cities like Chicago and Baltimore, taking all the blame away from the politicians who do nothing to eradicate systemic poverty, stop guns from being so readily available and cowardly turn a blind eye to the collection of mass shootings performed by those disgruntled lone wolf white teens. But luckily for them, the 24-hour news cycle tends to wash away all political sins every time. You are young and Black, so instead of a 24-hour news cycle, it’s more like a 240-hour news cycle – our negative stories tend to stick around longer. I am sure you know that, just as I am sure you are probably sick of hearing about the video of you brandishing the firearm.

I took up for you, Ja. I know you didn’t ask me to but I did. I blame the culture’s influence on you more than your parents or personal ability to make decisions. People call me crazy. I’m even more crazy after reading this, but still, I will continue to ask, “What crime did Ja commit?” 

No one could successfully answer that question, which allows us to finally tap into the real issue – sacrifices, and are you responsible for making them? People are angry because they feel like you are not aware, they feel like you think you exist in a bubble, like you think your actions don’t matter, like you are not doing your part. This is not new. Allen Iverson, Michael Jordan and most affluent Black people, who “made it” also had to deal with this, just as the new “Ja!” who will probably emerge 10 years after you retire will be confronted with the same. This idea of what young Black people owe to the generations that made sacrifices for them.

Sacrifice continues to be the main ingredient of Black survival in America.

Maybe you don’t owe anybody anything. You are in the NBA because of your God-given talent; however, there would be no Ja if there wasn’t an Earl Lloyd, a Chuck Cooper and a Nat “Sweetwater” Clifton. These are the first Black men to play in the NBA. Like Jackie Robinson before them, they had to deal with the same kind of ridiculous racism, karma, bigotry and the never-ending collection of bulls**t so that a Black man like you, could one day be the face of the league. And I know you didn’t ask those people to do anything for you, and you really don’t owe them anything; however, that doesn’t take away the fact that their sacrifices paved the way for you. And sacrifice continues to be the main ingredient of Black survival in America. 

Ja, we make sacrifices – as a people, we are constantly charged with doing things we don’t want to do. People like Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass were free; Douglass had even acquired enough wealth to do nothing. Still, they dedicated their lives to freeing future generations, so they may not endure the same kind of pain. They took responsibility for people they never met, which is why people are so upset with you. They are bothered at the notion of you being so proud not to take on those same kinds of responsibilities. Is it fair? Absolutely not, but we don’t have anything in this country, but each other – we rely on each other, even when we don’t mean to.

That clip of you dunking, helped me and my friends find a piece of joy in the middle of the chaos and pain that comes with doing community work, and fighting addiction, and pulling kids off of the streets, and documenting the injustices in America, and being responsible for people we never met. These words I’m directing at you, is me being responsible for a guy I may never meet, but I’m here, because I hope and dream you continue to win. Your continued success, it’s all about responsibility. 

You wear this skin, live in this country, are beyond blessed, and we lift you up, and in turn you lift other people up – so why risk everything? What’s the point? Or better yet, what is it that we are missing? Because I know you are not stupid. I heard your interview and think that you are charismatic and brilliant. You understand that you are a potential billion-dollar enterprise, and you also know that professional athletes are capable of going broke.  You know that people are always watching you. You also know that there are a number of people that are being uplifted and making a living off of the Ja Morant brand. They need you. So, what is it? Because I refuse to believe that you are just careless. 

I know you probably see all the goofy memes and fake gangster jokes. That’s not cool because any real one knows it’s not about where you are from but about how you carry yourself. But I do question the company you keep. What in the hell is wrong with your friend group? Do they hate being rich by association? Do they hate private planes, courtside tickets and disposable income they didn’t earn? I’m so confused by these guys. 

You are the talent, you the platform, you are the money, they live off of you, and you are the leader even if you don’t want to be – so you should never be the one holding the gun. Let me repeat that: you should never be the one holding the gun. That is crazy. Think about it, when America goes to war, does the president suit up for battle? Hell no, they have like all kinds of fancy panic rooms, bunkers and places he can hide in times of danger. As a matter of fact, Army leaders don’t even suit up; that’s why they have infinitary units, which also ranks the lowest. Think I’m lying? Take the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) exam, bubble in anything for your answers, and I bet you more than qualify for infantry. Being a shooter doesn’t take much skill, talent, smarts, or heart. In my experience, shooters are usually consistently the weakest people in the room. But you know, Ja, I was once 23 and carried a gun just like you. The only difference is that I had nothing to lose and was headed nowhere, almost as fast as you can run. 

In my years around guns, I saw them take the lives of innocent people, I saw them paralyzed good ball players, I saw them leave jagged scars on beautiful skin, I saw them rip people and families apart. Guns have destroyed each and every neighborhood I ever lived in while simultaneously delivering a kind of depression that we will never shake. 

Guns have guaranteed that many of our people never get the chance to soar. We want to see you soar, Ja. Please soar.

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