Martin Luther King Jr. And The NBA – “Just Learn”


Thinking about how to begin this text, one could certainly have started with what an incredible pioneer Martin Luther King Jr. was. One could have written about courage, bravery and the racist America of the 50s and 60s – or about the immense influence the former civil rights activist had on the black history of the world and in particular on that of the United States.

But if we look deep into each other’s eyes, then each of us should know exactly that and have heard and spread this part of the story many times. For the National Basketball Association, however, it is not enough to simply trust that we have been fed the necessary information by schools, the media and common sense.

Martin Luther King Jr. is considered the preeminent figure in a non-violent struggle against oppression, social injustice and sheer, disgusting and disturbing racism. A racism with which the USA has always struggled. For this reason, it is all the more important to remember the atrocities of the past and their heroes so that history does not repeat itself.

The NBA does this in the form of NBA MLK Day. And the long-standing tradition of this day shows that this is not a PR campaign to survive in a 21st century cancel culture. For more than 38 years now, players, officials, coaches and fans have stood side by side in the arenas of the NBA to set an example against racism. With one exception: Since MLK Day is a national holiday that occurs on the third Monday of every January and the 1998-99 season did not begin until Feb. 6, this season is the only exception in an otherwise unbroken tradition.

Also unbroken is the participation of a franchise that was scheduled for a game on each of the 36 MLK Days. We’re not talking about the Memphis Grizzlies or the Atlanta Hawks, which one would have assumed, since Memphis is the birthplace and Atlanta the hometown of the hero whom this holiday is dedicated to. It’s the New York Knicks. And this year, the Knicks get to continue this wonderful tradition, which is about much more than just basketball.

This Monday, the New York franchise will have hosted the Orlando Magic. 

With so many games starting at the same time, statisticians are of course on hand to measure the records of this special holiday. In the recent past, three years ago in 2020 to be precise, Damian Lillard set the record for the most points on MLK Day with 61 points and 11 converted threes (which is also a record) against the Golden State Warriors.

But it was the Warriors who scored the most points in Memorial Day history in 1989 with 146. The most rebounds were scored by Dwight Howard (26) and the most assists by Mark Jackson (22). But of course the defensive performances are also listed. Kyrie Irving with 8 steals and none other than Shaquille O’Neal with 8 blocks lead the defensive statistics. However, the best team, the team with the most wins, are the New York Knicks from the Big Apple.

But despite all the action, it should be clear to everyone that the cultural aspect of Martin Luther King Jr. Day takes center stage. The NBA also takes care of this with numerous charity events around the games. Warm-up shirts, commercials and much more have been produced. And in the recent past, the Atlanta Hawks have of course also played in their City Edition jerseys, in which the initials of the Nobel Peace Prize winner adorn the players’ chests.

What the NBA has come up with for today remains a secret that will be revealed this evening. What is definitely no secret is that the NBA is probably the most progressive league in the world, not least thanks to a large number of athletes for whom racism is still a sad part of everyday life today.

The NBA released a movie called “We must Learn” in 2020 and played it in the halls on MLK Day to continue the legacy of the revolutionary who was shot in an assassination attempt in 1968.

I use this motto and appeal to each and every one of you: Shout “I have a Dream”, “No Justice, no Peace”, “What do we want? Justice! When do we want it? Now!”, “Black Lives Matter”, “I can’t breathe”, “Stop killing us” “Say their names” – But the most important thing in all this: Just learn!

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