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Devean George on George Floyd’s death: ‘The saddest part is we’re talking about riots now’

The former Laker discusses the protests happening in his hometown of Minneapolis

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect the arrest of former police officer Derek Chauvin in Minneapolis.

Watching the footage of Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin kneeling on George Floyd’s neck on Monday as Floyd says “I can’t breathe” several times before dying shortly after pains former NBA forward Devean George.

“The sickest part is watching the video of the death [and] just seeing how nonchalant and comfortable [Chauvin] was,” said George, who is from Minneapolis. “How nonchalant the other officers were. That was the hardest part about watching it.”

What has made matters worse in the immediate aftermath, George says, is how the property damage caused during this week’s protests has taken the focus off the bigger issue.

“The rioting glosses over the hot seat,” George told The Undefeated in a phone interview from Sacramento, California, on Thursday. “Keep all the focus and attention on what [the Minneapolis police] are going to do next. That’s the saddest part is we’re talking about riots now. I want to talk about what they are going to do. When are they going to arrest this man? That is all I want to talk about. I want them to stay on the hot seat.”

Chauvin and three other officers were fired Tuesday from the Minneapolis Police Department. But as of Friday morning, none of the four had been arrested in the death of the 46-year-old Floyd. That changed on Friday afternoon, when Chauvin was taken into custody and charged with murder.

George is well known in Minneapolis for being a three-time NBA champion with the Los Angeles Lakers, and also as a community leader, real estate developer and businessman. Wednesday night’s protest-turned-riot resulted in burned buildings, smashed windows and looted stores around the Minneapolis Police Third Precinct on Lake Street, where protests of Floyd’s death took place. On Thursday, protesters set the precinct building on fire.

“There are a lot of people who aren’t from the community who are doing a lot of this stuff. I’ve been able to get into some rooms to put resources into our communities that have been underserved for years and years,” George said. “It hurt me because I understand the hard work it takes to put things in our communities. And now for them to be destroyed, who knows how long will it take for them to come back? People who destroyed them don’t know how hard it is to put amenities and homes, living situations in these communities.”

George, 42, was born in Minneapolis. His parents sent him to private school so he could get a better education than what was available to him in his North Minneapolis neighborhood. He attended Benilde-St. Margaret’s School in St. Louis Park, Minnesota, on an academic scholarship. The financial aid George received in high school motivated him to give back to the less fortunate and the underserved African American community in Minneapolis.

“It’s very, very tough,” George said. “The exposure of the income gap, jobs and education, we probably have the largest gap. Economically, Minnesota is a very good economic state. We have all those Fortune 500 companies, education is great, high-paying jobs. But there are only a few people getting that money and that’s mostly the white folks. Everyone else is scrapping.”

After starring at Division III Augsburg College in Minneapolis, George was drafted by the Lakers in 1999. His 11-year NBA career, highlighted by winning three titles alongside Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant, increased George’s platform.

George was active in community service in Minneapolis and the Los Angeles neighborhoods of South Central and Watts as an NBA player. He also started a charitable foundation and got involved in real estate in underserved Minneapolis communities.

In 2016, George, who is president and CEO of George Group North, a real estate company, built a 45-unit affordable apartment project two blocks from where he grew up in North Minneapolis. Knowing how hard it is to get something built in underserved communities added to the disdain George had for the damage to the buildings in Minneapolis during protests for Floyd.

Former NBA player and Augsburg star Devean George looks over the lots at Golden Valley Road and Penn Avenue in North Minneapolis in 2012. George built The Commons at Penn at this location in 2016.

Jerry Holt/Star Tribune via Getty Images

“It’s hard to put up structures and rebuild communities,” George said. “It’s sad. But at the same time, there is a bigger issue.”

George, who says he has been “really lucky” to not experience any notable racial incidents during his Minneapolis days, is familiar with the Midway neighborhood where Floyd’s death happened. It’s near where he went to college. George says there has been progress made in the area with new buildings being constructed, but police issues have been persistent.

“The police in that community has been a problem for quite some time,” he said. “It’s a problem that needs to be addressed.”

It’s something George is especially mindful of as a 6-foot-8 black man.

“[Police] can look at me and my size and really be scared,” George said. “They’re scared of a small black man. Our size really heightens their insecurity and how much they’re scared. I’m a peaceful brotha who is nonviolent, but immediately they can pull me over and say, ‘Damn, this dude is pretty big, and fit. So, damn, let me go overboard.’ That always crosses my mind.”

George splits his time between Minneapolis and his wife’s hometown of Sacramento. He has been in Sacramento since the arrival of the pandemic. George has three sons and talked to them in detail about Floyd’s death and how it affects them as African American men.

“I had to have a hard talk with my boys the other days,” George said. “They get it. I got an 8-, 11- and 13-year-old, all black boys. I have to have a talk with them about what is real. Obviously, we don’t live in the situation. But that could be me. They really got it when I said, ‘What if that was me picking you up from school? A cop just killed me for no reason.’

“ ‘When you get older, you’re pretty big, you’re only 13 years old, this can be you.’ We got to teach our kids. I’m teaching my kids that with your skin color this could happen. This is a possibility. It’s very sad to have that conversation.”

George told The Undefeated on Friday morning that pamphlets have been placed on two of his properties in Minneapolis that inform passersby that he owns the building. There is a picture on each pamphlet with George being hugged by late former Lakers great Kobe Bryant.

“My buildings are not touched so far,” George said. “They posted signs all over them.”

George, whose father still lives in North Minneapolis, is embarrassed by what is happening in his hometown.

“The embarrassment I’m feeling right now of the exposure of what it’s really like where I’m from. The racism. The disparity in income and how blacks are treated in the place that I’m from. That has been very embarrassing, what the world is seeing right now and what is really going on,” George said.

“But the reality and the truth is, it’s the same way in other states. I don’t think anyone can raise their hand and say, ‘It ain’t like that where I’m from.’ It’s the same if not worse in other places, too.”

Marc J. Spears is the senior NBA writer for The Undefeated. He used to be able to dunk on you, but he hasn’t been able to in years and his knees still hurt.