Tom “Satch” Sanders and Sam Jones left the Wilshire Hotel one night in Los Angeles during the 1962-63 season to pick up some food at a nearby grocery store, and on their way back through the toney, white neighborhood were surrounded by police.
With their lights trained on the two Celtics and their guns drawn, officers ordered Sanders and Jones to lean against the nearest wall. Jones dropped the bag of food he was carrying, shattering the glass drink bottles inside. After the bag’s ruined contents were inspected, the two men were told they could go on their way.
One officer sent them off with a parting joke:
“We should arrest you just because you’re here to play the Lakers.”
The next day while meeting with the media, a reporter asked how the visit to LA was going, and both men recounted what happened. Reporters showed sympathy, but not a word was written about the incident. The cursed relationship between black citizens and police officers was not in the scope of sports pages back then.
“They didn’t want to hear about it,” the Hall of Famer said of LA reporters. “It didn’t have a place in the sports columns.”
Sanders tells this story now because, at the age of 78, he’s inspired. Donald Trump’s clash with African-American NFL and NBA athletes over everything from protests during the national anthem to, in the case of Steph Curry, a distaste for visiting the White House with Trump in office, has pumped oxygen into the flames.
“The president has given them license and opened the door for athletes, male and female, to respond,” Sanders said rather coyly last week. “So we must be thankful for him opening that door.”
Bill Russell, one of the most active athletes of his time in the civil rights movement, posted a photo on Twitter of himself, kneeling and wearing the Presidential Medal of Freedom given to him in 2011 by Barack Obama.
“Well, that’s Russ,” Sanders said. “It’s hard to take a knee at his age. I only hope he had some help getting back up.”
Sanders, like Russell, embraced the civil rights cause, and met most of the same people Russell was famously pictured with. He met Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali as each man visited Boston. But unlike now, the sports media was not particularly open to the subject.
“One thing you have to understand was that most of the guys covering the team at the time were baseball writers, and they weren’t happy about us making the playoffs, because they…