Thabo Sefolosha gets real on race, racism and police brutality
The Atlanta Hawks star opens up about being biracial and his encounter with the NYPD.
Marc J. Spears, The Undefeated | 12/2/2016, 10:54 a.m.
Editor's Note: The following first appeared on ESPN's TheUndefeated.com.
The Thabo Sefolosha story is about much more than just basketball.
The Atlanta Hawks guard is the son of a South African father and Swiss mother who weren’t accepted in either country after their nuptials in the 1980s. Sefolosha got into fights while growing up in Switzerland with kids who had a problem with his mixed racial makeup. And on the morning of April 18, 2015, the first Swiss NBA player was arrested by police officers who fractured his right tibia outside a New York City nightclub.
Sefolosha, 32, has played for the Hawks, Oklahoma City Thunder and Chicago Bulls during his 11-year NBA career. On Tuesday, the 6-foot-7, 220-pounder’s focus wasn’t just on hoops as he talked about how racism affected his family, his painful bout with the New York City police, Colin Kaepernick, Danny Ferry and other social issues in America during an interview with The Undefeated.
Can you briefly tell the story of your mother and father and what they went through?
My mom is a Swiss lady, born and raised in Switzerland. And, she moved to South Africa with her then-husband. And, they got a child together, divorced. Then my mom stayed in South Africa for a while, and she met my dad. Back then in South Africa — my dad being a native black guy, my mom being white — with apartheid it was impossible for them to be together and everything.
They went through a whole lot. My dad being arrested, and just everything you could think of about apartheid. They lived it. My dad being from a township in South Africa. A musician traveling, and then my mom got pregnant with my older brother. And, at the time, they decided raising a mixed baby in that environment wasn’t healthy. It wasn’t good. They moved back to Switzerland.
What were some of the bigger nightmares that they faced being a mixed couple in South Africa at the time?
It was very different for both of them. For my mom, it was probably tough to be the ‘privileged’ one in a way, and seeing things she had never seen in Switzerland. Just the racism as a way of society. Just the separation and everything. After a while it really got to her that it was just too crazy, you know? It was too much.
And for my dad really it was not being free to do what he wanted to. You want to date a white girl and not be a criminal for it. You went to jail for it. The neighbor calling the police saying, ‘Hey, there’s a black guy at this house, come and get him because he’s in this neighborhood.’ It was probably very tough. They both wanted that relationship to work and decided to go to Switzerland.
Anything you remember in particular about what your parents went through when you were young?
I was born in Switzerland. I remember the time in Switzerland. It was early to mid-’80s that they moved back to Switzerland. For me growing up, my dad was one of the first black guys that was in Switzerland. You know, there are a lot of second-generation and mixed children, and everything. But back then it was a rarity. My dad was a black man with dreadlocks, a musician, bringing some people from South Africa to do the music.