August 28, 1963 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr gave the iconic “I have a Dream” speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. Twenty years later, President Ronald Reagan signed into law that the third Monday of January would be a federal holiday honoring Dr. King for his role in the Civil Rights Movement. Since its inception, the focus has been not on a day off, but volunteering service to others. The National Basketball Association (NBA) has been at the forefront of serving others with its sport that day. This year, the television station TNT and its “Inside the NBA” crew, hosted its show at the Martin Luther King Jr Center for Nonviolent and Social Change in Atlanta, GA. They were a part of 10 basketball games (four nationally televised) to honor the legacy of Dr. King.
The first game featured the New York Knicks verse the Philadelphia 76ers. This game went into double overtime with the hometown Knicks winning 119-113 behind Aaron Afflalo’s 25 points.
The second game was played in Charlotte, NC between the hometown Hornets and the Utah Jazz. This was another double overtime game won by the home team. Kemba Walker scored 52 points in a 124-119 victory.
Game three was between the Portland Trailblazers and the Washington Wizards in D.C. The Trailblazers won 108-98, led by C.J. McCollum’s 25 points.
Game four was nationally televised from Memphis, the city in which Dr King was assassinated. The Grizzlies fed off their home crowd by defeating the New Orleans Pelicans 101-99, behind Marc Gasol’s 16 points and 10 rebounds.
The fifth game featured the Chicago Bulls verse the Detroit Pistons. Not to be outdone by his brother Marc, Pau Gasol led the Bulls with 31 points and 12 rebounds to a 111-101 victory.
Game six, and the second nationally televised was played in Dr. King’s hometown of Atlanta. The Hawks erased the Orlando Magic 98-81 behind Paul Millsap’s 13 points and 12 rebounds.
The seventh game was played in Toronto, Canada. The Raptors would prevail at home 112-100 over the Brooklyn Nets, led by Kyle Lowry’s 31 points and 8 assists.
The eighth game of the day would be a televised rematch of the NBA Finals between the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors. The Warriors were apparently not following Dr. King’s non-violent approach by beating the Cavs 132-98 in the state of Ohio.
The ninth game was much closer than the previous one. The Dallas Mavericks beat the Boston Celtics 118-113 in Dallas. Dirk Nowitzki drank from the fountain of youth scoring 31 points to lead his team to victory.
The last and final game of the day was televised from Los Angeles, CA. The Clippers needed their hometown fans to pull them thru to victory, 140-132 in overtime over the Houston Rockets. J.J. Redick had a career game scoring 40 points to lead his team to a win.
Despite having a great day of basketball, the NBA has had to overcome its racism in the last couple of years. The Clippers owner, the Hawks owner and General Manager were all fired because of racially insensitive remarks. However, the league has not allowed those actions to ruin Dr. King’s legacy on integration and inclusion. Dr. King was not an athlete but he understood the roles that athletes play in society and the challenges that some endure. He understood the discrimination of not only race but also gender and age. The NBA is comprised of 74% black players, 23% white, 2% Latino, and 1% Asian. It’s sad that the dream of, “my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character” isn’t a full realization.