Bullock's work for LGBTQ community inspired by sister, grandmother
Reggie Bullock of the Los Angeles Lakers, right, chats with Lenoir County Public Schools Assistant Superintendent Nicholas Harvey during a pregame walk-through in Memphis on Feb. 25. Bullock is a finalist for the Muhammad Ali Sports Humanitarian Award. Photo by Bryan Hanks / Neuse News
Two women — one who passed in 2011 and the other tragically taken from him in 2014 — have shaped Kinston’s Reggie Bullock into the person he is today.
Bullock has spent the past five years of his life turning a horrifying personal and family tragedy into an opportunity to learn and to teach others what he’s learned.
His selfless work and dedication to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual and queer/questioning — or LGBTQ — community has brought him recognition from the sporting world at the highest level. Earlier this month, Bullock — a 2010 Kinston High School graduate, UNC basketball star and six-year veteran of the National Basketball Association — was named a finalist for the Muhammad Ali Sports Humanitarian Award. There will be a special ceremony to announce the winner on July 9 in Los Angeles; it is being taped by ESPN and will be shown as part of an hour-long special on the channel at 7 p.m. on July 18.
A $100,000 grant from ESPN is awarded to the winner’s designated charity; the rest of the finalists receive $25,000 each for their charity.
Past winners of the award are Kevin Durant of the Golden State Warriors (2018), Mark Giordano of the Calgary Flames (2017), Chris Paul of the L.A. Clippers (2016) and Tamika Catchings of the WNBA’s Indiana Fever (2015).
Bullock is a finalist for this year’s award alongside Chris Long, a retired NFL defensive end who played for the St. Louis Rams, New England Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles; Yadier Molina of the St. Louis Cardinals; and former U.S. Open tennis champion Sloane Stephens.
However, it’s an award Bullock wishes he’d never be eligible to win because of the tragic circumstances that brought him to this point in his life.
Bullock’s sister, Mia Henderson, was a transgendered person who was a few years older than Bullock. As one of five siblings, Henderson grew up with him in Kinston; she went by “Kevin Long” before she started transitioning.
She was a popular, beautiful person with a gorgeous smile and a wide circle of friends in Kinston.
Henderson was brutally murdered in Baltimore in July 2014; while there was an arrest in the homicide a short time later, the man accused of the crime was eventually acquitted in a jury trial.
Henderson’s murderer remains at large.
The homicide and sudden loss of his sister spurred Bullock into action and into bringing positive recognition to the LGBTQ community, of which his sister was a part. Since the tragedy, Bullock has been the NBA’s ambassador to the community — while with the Detroit Pistons, he was an instrumental part of the team’s first LGBTQ Pride Night. He also rode atop the NBA’s official float in the New York City Pride Parade in 2018.
In this day and age, Bullock is certainly a rare and special breed of person — a heterosexual professional male athlete who is using his platform to advocate for the LGBTQ community. He said he appreciates the reciprocal support he has received.
“They have supported me so much and I hope they know what that support means to me,” Bullock said in a telephone interview with Neuse News from Los Angeles on Saturday.
He feels his sister would be proud of him.
“Mia would be smiling from ear to ear right now,” Bullock said. “If she was living, she’d be right here with me through all this. I know she’s looking down and loving the way I’m carrying on her name.”
He continued, “She was always like, ‘You’ve got such a busy life! Where are you at today?’ But I’m actually a lot busier today carrying on her business; I’m proud to carry on her name and to stand for what she stood for.”
There is a woman, though, who Bullock considers the “No. 1 person” who has shaped him into the man he is today — his grandmother, Patricia Williams.
It takes an incredible amount of courage to do the right thing, especially when the world at large — including the community where you spent your formative years — may not understand exactly why you’re doing it.
Having courage is just one of the many lessons Williams taught Bullock while he was growing up in Kinston.
“She taught me everything I know about love and about how to treat people,” Bullock said of his grandmother.
Bullock was able to tangibly show his grandmother what she meant to him following his senior year at Kinston. He played in the Jordan Brand Classic all-star game in April 2010, held at Madison Square Garden in New York City. His grandmother and her church got together and arranged a bus to take some Kinstonians to New York to watch the game.
It was a 12-hour bus trip to the Big Apple — a tough ride for an elderly woman who, at that point in her life, was dependent on a wheelchair to get her around.
Following the game, Bullock emotionally embraced his grandmother on the court and then made a decision that shocked many — he decided to forgo a night in a Manhattan hotel room and a comfortable plane trip the next day so he could take the ride back to Kinston on that cramped bus with his grandmother.
“My town and my grandma had come to support me, a young kid from the same place they were from,” he said. “It was a respect thing and a love thing and I wanted to honor my grandma and all those people who had come such a long way.
“It was something in my heart I was happy to do.”
Today, looking back almost nine years later, Bullock said he is particularly glad he had that extra time to share with his grandmother — she passed away nine months after that bus trip.
“I hope she knows the type of person she built me into,” Bullock said of Williams. “I want to be able to carry on her legacy for my sister, for my grandmother, for my mother and for my city. I want to lead and guide the way she did and leave my mark.”
Similar to what he thinks of his sister, Bullock said he knows how his grandmother would feel about his activism, too.
“I think she would be proud and full of joy,” Bullock said. “All the work I’ve done in standing up for my sister and standing up for our family name, she is the one that has given me strength. She taught me to be strong through tragedy. And what she taught me made me want to stand up and use my platform to help others.
“That is what my grandma would’ve told me to do.”
Without his knowledge, Bullock’s personal assistant, Adrienne Starr, nominated him for the Ali award.
“I’ve done my best to surround myself with good people like (Starr),” he said. “She sent everything in and before she knew it, I was one of the finalists. … She was so excited when she called to tell me about it.”
Bullock is coming off the best professional season in his six-year NBA career, which has included stops with the Los Angeles Clippers, Phoenix Suns, Detroit Pistons and L.A. Lakers. He was traded from the Pistons to the Lakers in February and started 60 of the 63 games he played in this season for the teams.
He averaged a career-high 11.3 points per game for the Pistons and Lakers and also averaged career highs in rebounds (2.7 per game) and assists (2.0). With free agency less than two weeks away, there are a number of teams who are interested in signing him to a contract.
“I’m just trying to control what I can control and working out daily,” Bullock said. “I know there are some teams interested in me, but we’ll see what happens.”
With everything Bullock has going on at the moment — his upcoming free agency, being a devoted father to an extremely bright 6-year-old and with all his work for the LGBTQ community — he admits he’s still in shock about being an Ali finalist.
“I haven’t been able to wrap my mind around it yet,” Bullock said. “I know it’s very prestigious. But coming from a small town like Kinston and having gone through the adversity I’ve been through, to be able to be amongst these nominees for this award is incredible.”
THE MESSAGE AND THE MISSION
Bullock spends a lot of his personal time traveling all over the country speaking to LGBTQ groups, young and old, spreading the message of equality and to not be ashamed of who they are.
“I was taught that by my sister, her friends and everybody she hung out with,” Bullock said. “I am a straight man who hung around with her and her friends; they respected me and I respected them. We cracked jokes here and there, but we never disrespected them.
“When I speak to LGBTQ groups, I want them to know they are important.”
Bullock has taken his son to some of the recent events, including the New York pride parade last summer.
“I am teaching him that everyone is equal in this world, no one should be separated and we should all be as one,” Bullock said. “I am teaching him to just be himself. I want him to see his daddy is using his platform for something good.”
Bullock is not just an advocate for the LGBTQ community; he is working to improve lives of underprivileged youth all over the country, including right here in Kinston. He is hosting a basketball skills camp again at the Kinston Community Center next month and continuously does work for underprivileged youth throughout the nation that doesn’t always make the news.
Bullock will continue to work hard for those whose voices have been quieted — his slain sister, his gracious grandmother. But there’s no doubt he’ll also keep working hard for those whose voices he wants to amplify.
“I think a lot of people knew me as just Reggie Bullock the basketball player,” he said. “But with this work I’m doing for the LGBTQ community, I think my legacy will live a lot longer than just being a basketball player.”