‘Bringing humanity together’, how the United States and the NBA immortalize Martin Luther King every year

Every year in the United States, a holiday honors the memory of Martin Luther King. The NBA has devoted a large sports program to it. And a message dear to him.

The lights dimmed, the American anthem played. Active Los Angeles Lakers legend LeBron James looks up at the ceiling of the Crypto.com Arena. “Don’t stop dreaming“, is written in white printed letters on his black t-shirt, in reference to the famous saying “I have a dream”. This Monday, January 16, 2023, LeBron James will take the court again, basketball megastar, for this very special day for the United States and the NBA.

Every third Monday in January is a holiday in the United States. A tribute to Martin Luther King, born on January 15, 1929 and assassinated on April 4, 1968, after years of fighting racism and inequality. Years of struggle for peace and kindness. This Monday is also a highly anticipated day for basketball fans. Like Christmas, the NBA takes the opportunity to put up great posters, including some at advanced times (from 7 pm in France). It’s no coincidence, we’ll get back to it. But first, where does this “Martin Luther King day” come from?

Martin Luther King, “an enemy of the many” in the United States

Martin Luther King”is almost like the enemy of many in America“, spat bitterly at Oscar Robertson, former famous basketball player, for The Undefeated in 2020. As proof, only 18 years after his death, in 1986, “MLK day” was held for the first time in the United States. Several years of struggle, especially from the unions, thanks to King, a multifaceted activist, including for workers’ rights.

It wasn’t until the dawn of the 1980s, with the support of Bob Marley and Michael Jackson, among others, that everything accelerated. In 1981, Stevie Wonder released his iconic hit “Happy Birthday” to promote the idea of ​​this holiday. More than 6 million Americans signed a petition. President Ronald Reagan didn’t want to hear anything. But Congress was stronger than him and voted more for, in 1983. Three years later, “Martin Luther King day” was born.

Bill Russell, NBA legend and supporter of Martin Luther King

With his induction, the NBA seized the opportunity. It offers an enticing menu and highlights the late pastor’s values. “It is a celebration to fulfill his dream, that all people will be treated as equals.“, explains to us Chris Singleton, Franco-American basketball coach and consultant for be SportsNBA broadcaster in France.

The link between King and basketball was not born in 1986. In the 1960s, Bill Russell (11 NBA titles, a record) appeared at his side. He accompanied him to the March on Washington in 1963. The day after King’s assassination, Russell and other Boston Celtics players asked for their game to be postponed. Reject. They will play hard and hard. The pill will take time to pass.

The NBA has always been THE forward-thinking league in the United States. Even”basketball always comes first“, added Chris Singleton, former university player. The orange ball became a refuge for many blacks during segregation. The NBA, or at least its players, broke down barriers beyond sports.

For example in 1961. The Boston Celtics were invited by the Saint-Louis Hawks for a friendly match. In their hotel restaurant, white Celtics players are entitled to one meal. Not their black colleagues. They all leave town without playing. “The newspapers of St. Louis that we should be suspended for embarrassing white Kentucky players“, will denounce Bill Russell.

The NBA has always tried to bring people together, regardless of their community.

Chris Singleton, Franco-American consultant for beIN Sports.

We wouldn’t see sports, and even humanity come together as we do without Martin Luther King and his dreamChicago All-Star guard DeMar DeRozan said. The NBA has had a strong relationship with King, under the influence of its players and then David Stern, the boss of the league from 1984 to 2014. While “MLK day” was inaugurated in 1986, several states took a few years to meet. So, the NBA refused to hold its annual All-Star Game in Arizona or Utah, until they complied with the law, like everyone else.

The NBA has always tried to bring people together, regardless of their community“, stressed Chris Singleton. In 2017, he removed the organization from the All-Star Game in Charlotte, North Carolina for its passage of a law deemed discriminatory against transgender people. The NBA is not only fighting against racism, but it remains the first fight.

The Bucks boycott, a legacy of Martin Luther King

According to the Statista portal, 72% of NBA players will be African American in 2022. They are 58% black in the NFL and only 7% in MLB (baseball). More than numbers, they are voices. Whose resonance exploded in 2020, with the Black Lives Matter movement.

NBA players realize that their message is being heard around the world“said Chris Singleton. On August 26, the Milwaukee Bucks boycotted a playoff game after the Jacob Blake affair.”PSG seems to be on strike for the Adama Traoré affair“, transposed the Franco-American commentator George Eddy for CNews.

Minnesota Timberwolves players before a game against the Golden State Warriors on Martin Luther King Day in 2022. AI/Reuters/Panoramic

The involvement of athletes at the political level is “a big differencebetween France and the United States, says Chris Singleton. “The footballers went to the Senate to ask for better wages. You will be heard there.Even if it meant the departure of former president Donald Trump, the NBA remained true to its values. The ones he shares with Martin Luther King, born in Atlanta and died in Memphis, two cities whose NBA teams systematically play on “MLK day”.

But it does not forget another part of its essence: marketing. “MLK day” has been fixed as an appointment stamped with the NBA. This Monday, nine matches will fuel the night. The media is talking about it, brands are being promoted, and profits are rising. Because sport, at this level, is a business to be taken care of. This does not prevent, in the case of American basketball, to remain honest.

The NBA schedule for Monday, January 16:
Charlotte Hornets-Boston Celtics (7 p.m.)
Milwaukee Bucks – Indiana Pacers (8:30 p.m.)
New York Knicks-Toronto Raptors (9 pm)
Washington Wizards-Golden State Warriors (9 pm)
Cleveland Cavaliers-New Orleans Pelicans (9 p.m.)
Atlanta Hawks-Miami Heat (9:30 pm)
Minnesota Timberwolves – Utah Jazz (10 p.m.)
Memphis Grizzlies-Phoenix Suns (00h)
Los Angeles Lakers – Houston Rockets (4h30)

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