It’s award season in the NBA, and over the weekend UNC’s own Reggie Bullock was named the 2022 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Social Justice Champion recipient.
The award is only in its second year of being awarded, and was an initiative by the NBA to highlight the outstanding work of their players following social upheaval in 2020. The NBA itself describes the award this way:
...an annual honor that will recognize a current NBA player for pursuing social justice and upholding the league’s decades-long values of equality, respect and inclusion. The award is named after six-time NBA champion and Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. The recipient will have advanced Abdul-Jabbar’s mission to drive change and inspired others to reflect on injustice and take collective action in their communities over the previous year.
The award was bestowed on Bullock, this year playing for the Dallas Mavericks, with his years-long work for the LGBTQ+ community. That sentence alone doesn’t do justice to the work that Bullock has done, but for this year in particular he gained notice for how he jumped in head first into the Dallas area once he signed with the Mavericks. The award article lists four organizations Bullock has done work with to help that community, and in addition he created RemarkaBULL, an organization meant to revitalize space for in the LGBTQ+ community. This follows up visible work done by Bullock that included being one of the faces of the NBA in Pride parades.
Sadly, all of this passion was born out of family tragedy. Bullock had always loved his sister, Mia, and she was tragically murdered in Maryland just a year after he was drafted in to the NBA out of UNC. The murder was motivated by her status as a transgender woman. Bullock has used that loss to try to help others and try to ensure that fewer families have to deal with that sort of pain.
The work, unfortunately, is a steep uphill climb. As was noted in the award piece, the Human Rights Campaign cited 2020 as the highest year for deaths in the transgender community, and the amount of deaths are disproportionately tilted toward people like Mia, African-American transgender women.
Mia isn’t the only lost sibling for Reggie, either. In October 2019, his sister Kiosha was struck down by gun violence at the age of only 22.
Bullock used the award not only to call for more to be done to help this community, but took the $100,000 award that came with it and donated it to his home town organization, Kinston Teens. The eastern North Carolina city has become known for producing amazing basketball talent, from Cedric Maxwell all the way to current Tar Heel Dontez Styles, and the city has been undergoing a Renaissance as of late thanks to Vivian Howard and the Chef & the Farmer restaurant, featured on A Chef’s Life on PBS.
Congratulations, Reggie, on the honor and for making Tar Heels proud.