When the NBA played with Martin Luther King against racism – Jeune Afrique

The news of the assassination of Martin Luther King, who was shot by James Earl Ray, a white segregationist, on April 4, 1968, had not yet spread throughout the United States when Robert F. Kennedy, candidate for the presidential election, was close to speak at a rally in Indianapolis, in a poor and predominantly African-American neighborhood. Many people gathered in the area to listen to the senator. From the back of a truck, the Democratic candidate announced the death of the Baptist pastor. People started to shout, shout, cry.

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April 4, 1968: the day Martin Luther King was assassinated

At the same time, Bill Russel, the player-coach of the Boston Celtics, who knew Martin Luther King (MLK) personally, heard the news. He was in shock. His club was the first to simultaneously field five African-American basketball players in an NBA game, but also assigned him a coach, who was also African-American. The day after the murder, his team was to play in the Eastern Conference Finals against the Philadelphia Sixers. Many thought that the fight would be postponed, believed impossible, though it is inconceivable, that the NBA, a majority black league, could sustain it. The two teams then had thirteen black players in total (out of twenty), and all of them initially suggested that the meeting be postponed, so as not to encroach on the organization of MLK’s funeral.

Earl Lloyd, a pioneer in the NBA

But in the end the National Basket Association (NBA) decided to keep the final, which did not surprise many of King’s supporters. “Many are considered an enemy in the United States,” Oscar Roberston, one of the Celtics’ best players, would say later. Four months after the doctor’s death, 27 players are organizing a memorial match in his honor in the Queens district of New York, in front of 7,500 spectators, raising $85,000 in the process to be donated to his movement.

Today, nearly 75% of the players who play in the NBA are African-American

Years before, when Martin Luther King, who was born in 1929 in Atlanta, was not talked about (he was chosen in December 1955 to lead the Association for Progress in Montgomery), Earl Lloyd became October 31, 1950 , the first black player to participate in an NBA game – a league previously reserved for white men – with the Washington Capitols team. That would make him one of the pioneers in the fight against racial segregation. Today, nearly 75% of the players who play in the NBA are African-American.

Between Martin Luther King and the world of basketball, the relationship is strong. Black players supported the pastor’s fight for civil rights, although all of them, no doubt to avoid possible trouble, did not openly endorse it. Others chose to participate in actions organized by MLK, such as the “march on Washington” on August 28, 1963. Bill Russell, who knew him personally, was in the front row on that famous day when King of his famous speech. , “I have a dream”.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar rallied on goal

Another NBA star, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, born in Harlem, where the ideas of Malcolm X were prevalent, attended. in a press conference by Martin Luther King in New York in 1964. From that date, he who was already one of the best athletes in his age category (he was 17) became more militant every day, participating in the pastor’s movement , while continuing his career as a basketball player in the prestigious university championship.

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Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who became a member of the Negro Industrial Economic Union, a society for the liberation of black people founded by Jim Brown, an American football player for the Cleveland Browns, did not hesitate to speak in publicly to oppose racism, taking advantage of his stardom to speak out on the subject.

Spokesperson for Black Lives Matter

In 1984, the arrival of David Stern as president of the NBA completely changed body image. Since 1986, even though Ronald Reagan, the American president, opposed the initiative, MLK Day has always taken place on the third Monday of January. The NBA is actively participating in this commemoration as a league, multiplying initiatives to this day. Its purpose is not only to honor the memory of the King, but also to organize events around the main theses of his fight. Individual and collective actions are carried out, many teams wear famous flocked jerseys “I have a dream”.

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Black Lives Matter: black rage

Since the death of George Floyd in May 2020, killed by a police officer, the NBA has even set itself the task of being one of the spokespeople for the Black Lives Matter movement. Although MLK Day remains a subject of controversy in the United States, it is overwhelmingly supported by players, black and white, as well as coaches.

Michael Jordan, one of the best players in the history of world basketball, has never been an activist, but he still decided to donate $100 million to the fight against inequality between 2020 and 2030. Chosen by NBA Foundation to allocate $300 million over the same period to economic liberation. of Black.

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