How The NBA Honoured Martin Luther King, Jr. Day


After a year marked by racial tensions that, at times, spilled onto centre court, the celebration of solidarity that is Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day took on added meaning for NBA fans yesterday. Teams playing during the rare Monday afternoon game paid touching tribute to the African American rights leader, while individual players honoured the late activist in their own small ways. Check out some of their most stirring memorials below. Oh, and don’t forget—coming up in February is Black History Month.


‘Barrier Breakers’ by the NBA
The NBA organization took it upon itself to release a short television film celebrating MLK. Aptly dubbed “Barrier Breakers,” the clip memorialized some of the sport’s most influential player-activists. Past NBA players included Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell, Jerry West, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Michael Jordan and more. Appropriately, active players—including Kevin Durant, Chris Paul, Serge Ibaka, Steve Nash—also made the cut, reminding us that there’s still a lot of work to be done in the name of racial equality.


Atlanta Hawks
Atlanta’s where it all started—it’s both the native home of the civil rights pioneer and the birthplace of the civil rights movement. The hometown Hawks went all out in remembering Dr. King with a visually-stunning 3D floor display. After playing clips from MLK’s speeches set to a hip-hop beat, singers from local Atlanta churches came on to help introduce the Hawks’ roster as the projection continued around them.


Toronto Raptors
To head off Toronto’s commemoration, Raptors members including coach Dwane Case, Lou Williams, Patrick Patterson spoke to about Dr. King’s impact on their daily lives and the opportunities his work opened up for them. Kyle Lowry and James Johnson made their own gesture, wearing custom-made shoes imprinted with quotes from former NBA player Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (a famous activist in the past whose work continues to this day).


Charlotte Hornets
Michael Jordan’s team preceded their game against the Minnesota Timberwolves with a film of their players talking Dr. King’s impact. Noah Vonleh, Kemba Walker, Marvin Williams, Al Jefferson and Gerald Henderson spoke of the liberties the good doctor helped win for African Americans, which helped set the stage for the state of the sport as it is now.


Photo: Patty Mills/Instagram

San Antonio Spurs

Patty Mills honoured Dr. King, fittingly, with a speech of his own prior to San Antonio’s game against the Utah Jazz. Although the Australian point guard did not grow up in the United States, he made the cause of civil rights global by drawing comparisons between Dr. King and Eddie Mabo, a leader who fought for the rights of indigenous Australians. (That night would mark the first time in NBA history that four native Aussies would play on the same court). When Mills finished his observation, the crowd erupted into applause.
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