Broken Wings: How the NYPD Changed Atlanta Hawks' Thabo Sefolosha's Playoff Ambitions

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A 60-22 regular season record. A triumphant 19-game winning streak. Four players on the All-Star team.

After an unexpected and wildly successful 2014-2015 campaign that saw the Atlanta Hawks make it to their first Eastern Conference Finals in decades, even a sweeping loss to LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers can do little to dull the pride of Hawks fans everywhere.

However, in an age where #BlackLivesMatters has become much more than a trendy hashtag and the maltreatment of African-American males has become disturbingly common in the news, the recent fate of Atlanta Hawks guard Thabo Sefolosha has become a taboo subject.

Following a night out in April that would see Indiana Pacers forward Chris Copeland and two other individuals stabbed, Sefolosha received a season-ending fibula fracture at the hands of the New York Police Department during his arrest. According to an SI.com article, there are two major points of concern here:

  • Contrary to police reports, one source claimed that the police were the initial aggressors and not Sefolosha. An officer pursued Sefolosha "and then he continues to track him down the block like a D-back tracking a receiver.”
  • Sefolosha was arrested "at the corner of 10th Avenue, more than 120 feet away from the scene of the stabbing at 1OAK night club."

While some critics and observers may blame Sefolosha's circumstances on a lack of judgment, the police's use of excessive force against Blacks has become highly controversial.

Following the recent Baltimore death of Freddie Gray in police custody, the death of Eric Garner at the hands of police officers and the murder of unarmed Black teenager Trayvon Martin by a neighborhood watch patrolman who would later go uncharged, there is a healthy level of skepticism in the way police officers treat men of color.

Perhaps more interestingly, on a Hawks team that was very much devoid of Finals experience and lacked perimeter toughness on defense, Thabo was widely-recognized going down the stretch as a player who not only had both qualities but could potentially surprise opponents. (Thabo Sefolosha started for the 2011-12 Oklahoma Thunder team that lost 4-1 to the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals.)

While the Hawks have another short off season to re-energize and come back swinging, the disappearance of Thabo Sefolosha from their bench and its strange reasons did not go unnoticed.