White sported a white hoodie featuring a black-and-white photograph of the Texas Western squad that won the 1966 NCAA men’s basketball championship — the first team to start five Black players in the title game — beating Kentucky’s all-white squad 72-65.
“‘Glory Road’ is like my favorite sports movie of all time. And what they did and what Don Haskins did by starting all five African Americans, especially in the national championship game, he started a new wave,” White told ESPN. “For us, as African Americans, we were looked at as just being athletic and we don’t know how to think the game. We don’t have no IQ. So for him to do that, he kind of started the wave that we’re no different than anybody else out there on the basketball court and playing sport.”
Though it was his tribute to Texas Western that drew attention on social media, White has been using his arena entrances as a platform for issues important to him throughout much of this season. During Black History Month he has put an increased focus on spotlighting significant figures in the Black community: Matthew Henson, credited as co-discoverer of the North Pole; civil rights pioneer Claudette Colvin, who was arrested at age 15 for refusing to move to the back of the bus and give up her seat to a white person (nine months before Rosa Parks’ actions started a national movement); Trayvon Martin, a Black teenager who was fatally shot by former neighborhood watch captain George Zimmerman in February 2012 while visiting his father in Sanford, Florida.
“Coby’s a man of few words. Until he gets super comfortable with you, he’s an introvert,” said his sister Tia, who helps him pick the people to highlight. “Before the season, he was at my house and we were just chatting and I said, ‘Would you like to use your platform more?’ and he said, ‘Yeah, but I want to be me. I’m not Donovan Mitchell. I’m not Chris Paul. I want to do it my way.’ And I said, ‘Well, you like hoodies, so why don’t we find what’s important to you and you love hoodies and we’ll highlight what’s important to you.'”
Gone were the outfits White used to arrive in, replaced by custom messages made by A3 Craaaftz, a Black-owned business based in Maryland run by Adria Davis, a longtime friend of the family.
They call it “raising aWEARness.”
White started with different mantras such as “Honor Black Women” on a black hoodie and “Black Lives Matter” on a face mask when he entered the building for the home opener against the Atlanta Hawks on Dec. 23. “Mental Health Matters” was the message for the Bulls’ Jan. 18 home game against the Houston Rockets.
And through this personal form of activism, White is learning his own history along the way.
“To be honest, I never heard of her until now,” White said of Colvin. “I always like learning new stuff and especially in our Black culture and Black history so it’s been fun for me also.”
After an up-and-down rookie season that was cut short by the coronavirus pandemic, White is averaging 15.2 points, 5.4 assists and 4.8 rebounds this season. Bulls teammate Garrett Temple praised White for his desire to learn, both on and off the court.
“Coby is like a little brother I never had, he’s just annoying,” Temple said. “Always around. Always asking questions, trying to get knowledge, trying to learn. … He’s a guy that definitely wants to learn, is listening, wants to know more about the game, more about different players, what I see and ways that he can get better.”
Still, White knows that no matter how much he learns and how well he plays, there are still challenges he’ll face on a day-to-day basis, notably as a Black man wearing a hoodie. Just last week, before Chicago’s Feb. 17 home game against the Detroit Pistons, White found himself the target of a skeptical mail carrier, who didn’t believe that White lived at his home address.
“I just accept the fact that we’re gonna be looked at differently no matter what. But my thing is, I’m the type of person that never gives up. We just can’t quit fighting,” he said. “One day, something is going to change in a positive way.”