Phil Chenier has been a color analyst for the Washington Bullets/Wizards telecasts for more than 30 years, but there are thousands of people in the D.C. area who have no clue he played more than eight seasons with the franchise.
The record books have the former shooting guard ranked among the franchise’s top 10 in several categories, including fourth in steals (667), sixth in points (9,778) and 10th in assists (1,688). Although Chenier didn’t get to play when the team won its only championship in 1978 because of a back injury, the former Bullet remains a fixture with the franchise.
After a stint with the Golden State Warriors near his hometown of Berkeley, California, he retired in 1981. Today, the 66-year-old continues to broadcast Wizards games with longtime on-air partner Steve Buckhantz on Comcast SportsNet.
Before the Wizards took on the New Orleans Pelicans on Saturday, Feb. 4, Chenier talked about the meaning of black history and whether the younger generation of professional basketball players understand its importance. Here’s Chenier in his own words:
Black History Month and Beyond
“What it means to me is I’ve come to a point that life is a cycle. If you are new, you have to mentored. Then you get that point when you are mentoring someone behind you. It’s kind of like a stepladder. When you really stop and look back at some of the roles that the pioneers really turned in setting the stage. You didn’t get a lot of money back then. You didn’t get a lot of attention, notoriety. When you think about the African-Americans and what they had to go through still going through, still not being totally respected, but persevering through all of that. I went to see the movie ‘Hidden Figures.’ Great, great movie. It just magnified Black History Month. All the pioneers, all the ground-breakers. People who had set the stage that today we take for granted. That wasn’t the case back then. I look at [Hall of Fame basketball player] Bill Russell. No one envisioned a black coach back then. Just like [former Charlotte Bobcats owner] Bob Johnson. Nobody envisioned a black owner. All of these new groundbreaking situations come from people who are willing to step out, do something different and be different.”
Younger Pro Players
“Everybody learns at their own pace. You have people who are hungry for knowledge. Just like we have the African-American museum that’s here. It’s a must-go-to, certainly for African-Americans, but for all Americans to see that this group made a major contribution to not only the growth of this country, but the culture of this country. I don’t think these guys have to thank me, or this person, or that person. They have to understand at some point, they are going to be in a similar role and it will be their responsibility to either leave or reach back and bring somebody into the fold. I think it’s an idea of showing respect for the game, for the people before them. Hopefully if they realized that I played the game having a certain amount of respect there. This is a fraternity that we’re in. The way things are now, I think it is important for players to be a little bit more politically conscious. I’m saying they have to speak out, but be aware of what’s going on. Be aware of the voting process. I think they understand this. Having a mentor helps.”
“There have been family members, friends who have helped me along the way. Mentors before me [such as former teammates] Wes Unseld, Earl Monroe, John Tresvant are guys that took time to make me feel comfortable in my position with this league, with this team. That says a lot. I grew up in Berkeley, California. There was a guy by the name of Don Barksdale. He is a pioneer in the NBA. He was the first to be an African-American All-Star and the first to get a gold medal on the U.S. Olympic basketball team. More importantly, he set a standard. He was an entrepreneur. He had his own beer distributorship … and a radio personality [first black disc jockey in the San Francisco Bay area]. He is showing you an example of all different type of avenues you can go into. Dave Bing is another person I would point to as a great example. After playing, he developed one of the best African-American-owned steel businesses in the country. My duty is to turn around and make sure somebody else feels comfortable and pass on some things that I learned. That’s my way of saying, ‘thank you.’”