Thabo Sefolosha reflects on incident, says he's always been a professional

ByKevin Arnovitz ESPN logo
Saturday, May 30, 2015

ATLANTA -- Hawks forward Thabo Sefolosha, who has blamed Manhattan police for the season-ending leg injuries he suffered during his April arrest in the city, told ESPN on Friday that the incident, in addition to carrying a physical toll, has damaged his reputation.

"I was injured in the hands of the police, and it took away a lot from my everyday life," Sefolosha said during an interview at his home. "From being able to help put the kids in bed, going up and down the stairs.

"We are talking about the stress that it has brought to the entire family, you know, my mom and dad in Switzerland, my brothers and sisters, my wife. Also, the damage to my reputation. I've had people texting me about what they saw in the newspaper and things like this. Every aspect of my life was affected by something like this, and I think putting light on the aftermath of something like this, I think that's also something that's important."

The Hawks' season ended this week with their elimination in the Eastern Conference finals. They secured the top seed in the East on March 27 and went on to win 60 games. The night before their April 8 game in Brooklyn against the Nets, Sefolosha went out with others to enjoy their success.

"That night we had quite a bit to celebrate," he said. "We had secured the first spot in the Eastern Conference. And I like New York. It's a city I enjoy. I have friends there. So me and one of my teammates decided to go out and have a good time in the city."

Sefolosha was arrested at the corner of 10th Avenue and West 17th Street in Manhattan's Chelsea district in the early hours of April 8. The police report filed by officer Johnpaul Giacona of the 10th Precinct stated that Sefolosha was interfering with the establishment of a crime scene in front of 1Oak Club, where Indiana Pacers forward Chris Copeland was stabbed in a separate incident.

But a pair of videos later published on TMZ challenge several specifics from the report.

One video, shot by a witness, appears to show an officer pulling out his baton as a group of officers wrestled Sefolosha to the ground. In addition, the arrests of Sefolosha and Hawks center Pero Antic appear to be more than 100 feet from the site of Copeland's stabbing.

Sefolosha suffered a broken fibula and ligament damage.

Asked how the injury was specifically caused or whether the police's use of force was acceptable, Sefolosha again said he's limited in what he can say about the arrest and his injuries.

"I'm looking forward for the truth to come out and for me being able to speak on it, but right now I think it's not the right time to do it," he said.

The New York Police Department has not responded to a request for comment.

Asked whether he put himself at risk being out at late hours, Sefolosha said, "I think it's a fair question to ask, 'Why were you out at 4 in the morning?' I think I'm not a criminal for it. I've always been a professional guy when it comes to basketball, and I put it first. Of course, it's my priority. So even when I do go out, I always think about the repercussions of anything I do could have on my teammates, on the team and on the NBA as a whole because we're looked at as NBA players.

"What one does often reflects on the others. So I try to conduct myself in a professional way. But at the same time I don't think it's a crime to be out, you know, even at 4 in the morning. It's something I can say I was OK doing due to the circumstances."

The Internal Affairs bureau of the New York City Police Department is investigating the incident.

Sefolosha said throughout Friday's interview that he hoped the incident in New York could serve as an opportunity to further the national conversation about policing.

"I'm saddened by it, and it definitely can happen to anybody," Sefolosha said. "That's why I think my having a platform to speak on it, I think it's an important subject, and something that needs to be discussed because I think I'm the proof that, again, this can happen to, honestly, anybody."

Sefolosha added that he did not want to draw direct parallels between his case in New York and those that resulted in fatalities in cities such as Ferguson, Missouri; North Charleston, South Carolina; Baltimore; Cleveland; and New York. In fact, Sefolosha was in New York for demonstrations in December, some four months before he got hurt nearby.

"I don't want to compare what happened to me to people losing their lives," Sefolosha said, "but one thing I want to say is I was in New York with my wife, we got caught in the middle of the protests for Eric Garner. And I got out of the car and took a picture and posted it on my Twitter, supporting the movement. I think it's a healthy thing when people can protest and say they disagree with something, as long as it's done in a peaceful way. I thought it was a great act and I just was supportive of it. Actually, hashtag-I-could-be-next."

A Sefolosha tweet from that time:

A citizen of Switzerland whose father is South African, Sefolosha played professionally in his native country, as well as France and Italy, before joining the Chicago Bulls in 2006 at age 22. Sefolosha said the presence of law enforcement never made him anxious growing up in Switzerland or when he first arrived in Chicago to play in the NBA. The incident in New York has lent him a new perspective as a European of African descent who makes his home in the United States.

"Coming from a different country, I have this view that's probably different than a lot of people who are from the U.S. and have been in the U.S. their whole life," Sefolosha said. "Coming to the U.S., you see a lot of marginalization, maybe, and stigma being portrayed about black people. This is something that is real, you know, to me, at least with the background I have. It's something I see as being real, being portrayed in the media, and I think that probably fuels or adds to the gap between races or between lower income or higher income."

Sefolosha discussed how professional athletes in the United States are often inured to the daily plights of average citizens, something he confessed to experiencing throughout most of his nine-year career in the NBA. He said that finding himself entangled with the New York Police Department in a criminal investigation changed that.

"It definitely made me understand a lot better what some people are talking about and going through," Sefolosha said. "When you come to the U.S. with an NBA contract, you're not just in the mix. You're a pro athlete and sometimes put on a pedestal in the community. So I think that definitely brought me closer probably to what a lot of people go through."

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