This year marks the 50th anniversary of the death of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. As it does each year, the NBA will honor the civil rights leader’s memory with a full-day, 11-game slate, including home tilts for the Hawks in Atlanta (where King was born on this day in 1929) and the Grizzlies in Memphis (where he was assassinated on April 4, 1968). Throughout the day, we’ll share some of the ways in which NBA teams and players are taking the opportunity to pay tribute to an American icon.
The Minnesota Timberwolves won’t play Monday, but when they took the court on Sunday to take on the Portland Trail Blazers, rising star center Karl-Anthony Towns did so wearing a specially decorated pair of Nike Hyperdunks designed by renowned shoe designer Kickstradomis bearing King’s image flanked by the words “I have a dream” and “EQUALITY”:
To Towns, King was “a man who wanted equality for each and every one of us — not just African Americans, but all races,” the Minnesota big man said in a recent video for the Timberwolves’ website. “For him to put his life on the line for his cause and what he truly believed in shows a courage and a strength that a lot of us don’t have, and that needs to be recognized.”
Towns finished with 20 points, 11 rebounds, two assists and a steal as the Wolves knocked off the Blazers, 120-103, for their fifth straight win.
When they welcome the Los Angeles Lakers to FedExForum for a 5:30 p.m. ET tipoff on Monday, the Memphis Grizzlies will be wearing these special alternate uniforms designed to evoke the “I AM A MAN” placards carried by protesters during the Memphis sanitation workers’ strike of 1968:
That strike, seeking racial, social and economic justice for workers, was the collective civic action that brought King to Memphis, where he was eventually killed by James Earl Ray while standing on the balcony outside his room at the Lorraine Motel. Today, the motel serves as the site of the National Civil Rights Museum, where TNT will host a conversation during Monday’s broadcast with Bernice King and Attallah Shabazz, the daughters of King and Malcolm X, respectively.
“When you look back to the history of what led to April 4, 1968, it came from the sanitation workers’ strike, and those signs are the most iconic image of the strike,” Grizzlies president of business operations Jason Wexler told Aaron Dodson of The Undefeated last month. “And the church, Clayborn Temple, where the strikers organized, and marched from is literally across the street from FedEx Forum. The Civil Rights Museum is four blocks away. We’re in their backyard. So when we were looking for design inspiration and we look back to that moment in time, that’s the most iconic image.”
The result is a beautiful, stark uniform — but one that Wendi Thomas, who’s heading up the nonprofit reporting project, MLK50: Justice through Journalism, aimed at pursuing economic justice in the city and country, hopes doesn’t divert focus away from King’s actual mission.
“God bless the Grizzlies and the MLK jerseys, they are a thing of beauty,” Thomas told Geoff Calkins of the Memphis Commercial Appeal.. “But if MLK were here, he wouldn’t give a flip about jerseys, he just wouldn’t. He was a radical, he was a prophet, and I think he’d have a lot to say about the state of economic justice today.”
Throughout the weekend and through to Monday, NBA players preparing for games and sitting on the bench are wearing special warm-up shirts featuring the phrase “I HAVE A DREAM” on the front and an excerpt from the legendary speech that King delivered at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom on Aug. 28, 1963:
The Philadelphia 76ers’ Justin Anderson, Royce O’Neale of the Utah Jazz and the Brooklyn Nets’ Caris LeVert suited up for their team’s Monday games in Nike’s Kyrie 4 “BHM” editions, which feature the word “EQUALITY” written all over them:
The National Basketball Players Association, the union that represents NBA players, gave a number of its members a prompt: provide your own ending to the line from King’s famous speech, “I have a dream that …” Their responses:
Exciting Utah Jazz rookie guard Donovan Mitchell wore a custom version of Adidas’ Dame 4s dedicated to the memory of Dr. King:
Kelly Oubre of the Washington Wizards took a gold pen to his all-black Kobes to pay tribute:
More NBA coverage:
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