Arizona men’s basketball senior Ira Lee doesn’t know the next time he’ll be able to safely play basketball again. He doesn't even know when he will be allowed to return to Tucson and use the university’s training facilities. So, for now, training at a gym in his hometown of Los Angeles with his dad is all he can do. But bigger things are on Lee’s mind during this time: police brutality and the Black Lives Matter movement.
“The pin-point issue right now is that Black lives do matter,” Lee said. “There’s a lot of things going on. There’s a lot of young Black men getting hung still. There’s people getting shot.”
Lee has been very vocal recently, particularly on Twitter, about his opinions involving the death of George Floyd at the hands of police, tweeting out his support of the Black Lives Matter movement. He’s even taken it a step further by combining his passion for singing and writing poetry to express his ideas, posting a 45-second clip on Twitter of a song that he wrote about the racial discrimination in America.
“A lot of that [song] came from anger and sadness and just the stuff that I was seeing as far as George Floyd, the way that situation happened, and Breonna Taylor," Lee said. "Going out to the protests and seeing my young peers getting shot by those rubber bullets — how could that not make anyone mad? So I just wanted to put it down on paper and show the world that this is how I’m feeling and how a lot of us feel.”
Lee has since received some backlash on social media for being so outspoken. People have begun to unfollow him, something that Lee has no interest in paying attention to, even encouraging people to unfollow and block him if they are uncomfortable with his activism.
“Personally I don’t care,” Lee said. “Everything that I retweet, everything that I post I stand strongly by. … We always try to say, ‘Oh, it’s better, it’s better,’ but I’m trying to highlight the issue that it’s not as good as everyone makes it seem, so I’m going to keep going strong for it.”
Police brutality is not something Lee has only seen on social media, it’s something that he’s had personal experiences with as well. Lee recalls his first negative encounter with the police when he was 12 years old. Lee was walking to his friend’s house when a police car approached him and interrogated him about being involved in “gang activity.”
“At the time I didn’t realize, ‘Oh, that’s not right,'" Lee said. "But being 22 looking back at that, that wasn’t right at all because I wasn’t doing anything. I was minding my business walking to where I needed to be.”
Lee also remembers a time in Tucson where he was stopped late at night by the police. He had just bought a new car and was going to get food when he was pulled over and asked if the car was his. After giving the officer his temporary registration associated with the car, he was given a ticket by the officer saying that it was not a valid registration.
“My dad came down (to the station) the next day and raised hell,” Lee said. “They ended up dropping the case because I didn’t do anything wrong.”
Lee hopes to set an example for his younger family members and the future generations by speaking out about racial injustice. Being a leader is something he’ll be doing a lot more of next season as he is one of the only four-year players on the 2020-21 roster, an accomplishment that he has grown very proud of.
“It’s a great feeling with all the guys transferring nowadays,” Lee said. “That’s like a trend now, everybody transfers now I feel like, so I think that’s an accomplishment.”
Lee has already reached out to some of his new teammates and has even started to work out with incoming freshman and Turkish native Tibet Gorener.
“He’s a great kid,” Lee said. “He’s a shooter. He can really shoot that ball. We already have sharpshooters on the team, but he can really shoot that ball.”
The Wildcats are set to welcome six international recruits, each from different parts of the world. A locker room with that much diversity might seem difficult to work with at first, but Lee sees no potential issues.
“We’ve had plenty of international recruits before," he said. “We’re all hoopers, we all have the same goal. They all came here to win. The guys that are still here want to win, so as long as we all have that understanding, there will be no problems.”
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