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Heat star Jimmy Butler, teammates recall early experiences with racism in Juneteenth town hall event

Miami Heat star Jimmy Butler opened up about one of his first experiences with racism on Friday during a Zoom call with several other teammates, part of the team’s effort to commemorate Juneteenth. 

That incident, Butler said, left him stunned.

Incident at a Walmart with a 6 year old

Butler told a story on the call about a time when he and his brother were walking out of a Houston area Walmart. 

Butler was 16 at the time, and ran into a white man and his young son, who Butler said is “no older than maybe 6.”

“I’m walking with my brother, and we hear the kid turn around and say, ‘Hey, Dad, those are those N-words you are telling me about,’” Butler said, via ESPN. “The kid doesn’t know any better.

“My initial reaction was to turn around and look at the father’s face … But the first thing that popped in my head was you had to [have] taught him that. [The kid] doesn’t know that. My daughter, I have to teach her that the stove is hot. You are choosing to teach your kid hate.”

The incident, he said, was “so confusing to me.” 

Why a parent would teach a child to hate is beyond him, Butler said, and is really the core issue of what is happening throughout the country.

“To me that is what all of this stems from. Everybody is being taught this hate, and it’s super hurtful,” Butler said, via ESPN. “You know the difference between right and wrong. For that parent to teach his kid at that young of an age, there is no other word for it except wrong. 

“This is crazy. This is the world that we live in. Now is the time for change.”

Other players join in

Butler wasn’t alone in sharing his story on the call, which was moderated by Heat coach Erik Spoelstra. 

Plenty of his teammates had similar stories to tell, including Solomon Hill — who said he used to cut his hair as a child simply because other people were talking about it constantly.

“My first experience [with racism] as a kid, having my hair long, having a 'fro, I do have a different texture than most people and people just coming up and touching my hair like I'm some dog that is being walked,” Hill said, via ESPN. "I never could have imagine myself walking up to a little white girl and just touching her hair randomly in a shopping center. That is like the opposite of what any black man should ever do, but it was commonplace for people to come up and touch my hair and normalize how different it was."

The conversations also left some players a little uncomfortable. 

"These are not easy conversations, especially for a white privileged male," Meyers Leonard said, via the South Florida Sun Sentinel. "I'm just going to continue to educate myself, continue to learn from my teammates."

Point guard Goran Dragic felt the same way. 

The Slovenian native grew up with racism in his home country, but it was a different kind than what’s being experienced now in the United States.

“When I was young, we had war, in our part of the world it was more racism by religion," Dragic said, via ESPN.

“I cannot imagine how you guys are feeling. Like Meyers said, I have white privilege. I don't know. It's really hard to talk right now, but at the same time, the only thing I can do is try to teach myself and try to teach my kids and learn as much as possible.”

Miami Heat star Jimmy Butler remembers walking out of a Walmart at 16 and hearing a young boy call him the n-word. (Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)

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