‘Bringing Humanity Together’, how the USA and the NBA immortalize Martin Luther King every year

Every year in the United States, the holiday commemorates Martin Luther King. The NBA has mastered this with a great sports program. And a message dear to him.

The lights go down, the American national anthem plays. Los Angeles Lakers legend LeBron James stares at the ceiling of Crypto.com Arena. “Never stop dreaming“, is written in white letters on his black shirt, referring to his famous “I have a dream” speech. This Monday, January 16, 2023, basketball megastar LeBron James will be back on the court for this very special day for the USA and the NBA.

Every third Monday in January is a holiday in the United States. In memory of Martin Luther King Jr., who was born on January 15, 1929 and was 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. As with Christmas, the NBA is taking the opportunity to use beautiful posters, including in prime time (from 19:00 in France). It’s not accidental, we’ll get back to that. But first, where does this “Martin Luther King Day” come from?

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

Martin Luther King”He was almost like an enemy to many in America“, Oscar Robertson, former famous basketball player, spat bitterly They are invincible in 2020. As proof of this, only 18 years after his death, in 1986, the first “MLK Day” was held in the United States. Unions who were grateful to King, a multifaceted activist, including for workers’ rights, fought for years.

It wasn’t until the dawn of the 1980s that things accelerated with the support of Bob Marley and Michael Jackson. In 1981, Stevie Wonder released his famous hit “Happy Birthday” to promote the idea of ​​this holiday. More than 6 million Americans sign the petition. President Ronald Reagan doesn’t want to hear anything. But the Congress is stronger than him and votes in his favor in 1983. Three years later, “Martin Luther King Day” was born.

Bill Russell, NBA legend and supporter of Martin Luther King

After his appointment, the NBA jumped at the opportunity. It offers a tempting menu and emphasizes the late pastor’s values. “It is a celebration to fulfill the dream he once had, to treat all people equally.“, Chris Singleton, a Franco-American basketball coach and consultant, enlightens us bein SportsNBA broadcaster in France.

The connection between King and basketball did not begin in 1986. In the 1960s, Bill Russell (11 NBA titles, a record) appeared next to him. In 1963, he accompanied him during the march on Washington. The day after King was killed, Russell and other Boston Celtics players asked for their game to be postponed. Refuse. They will play limited and forced. The pill will take time to wear off.

The NBA has always been a forward-thinking league in the United States. even”always ahead basketball“, adds Chris Singleton, a former college player. Orange ball became a refuge for many blacks during the segregation era. Far beyond sports, it was the NBA, or at least its players, that broke down barriers.

1961 example. The Boston Celtics are invited to a friendly by the Saint-Louis Hawks. The white players of the Celtics have the right to eat in the restaurant of their hotel. Not their black teammates. They will all leave the city without playing the game. “Louis newspapers wrote that we should be suspended for embarrassing the white Kentucky players“, will accuse Bill Russell.

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

Chris Singleton, Franco-American consultant for beIN Sports.

Without Martin Luther King and his dream, we would not have seen sports, or even humanity, come together as we do.“Chicago” star defender DeMar DeRozan said. At the urging of NBA players and later David Stern, the league’s president from 1984 to 2014, he formed a strong bond with King. If MLK Day was inaugurated in 1986, it took years for several states to recognize it. So the NBA refused to hold its annual All-Star Game in Arizona or Utah until everyone else followed the law.

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

The Bucks, a legacy of Martin Luther King Jr., are boycotting

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

NBA players realized their message was being heard on a global scale“Chris Singleton says. On August 26, the Milwaukee Bucks boycotted their playoff game after the Jacob Blake issue.”It’s as if PSG went on strike because of Adama Traore“quoted Franco-American commentator George Eddy to CNews.

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

Involvement of athletes on the political level “big differenceBetween France and the US, says Chris Singleton. “The players went to the Senate to demand better pay. You can be heard there.Even if it meant alienating then-President Donald Trump, the NBA stuck to its values. One they share with Martin Luther King Jr., who was born in Atlanta and died in Memphis, two cities where NBA teams systematically play on “MLK Day.”

But it does not forget another component of its essence: marketing. “MLK Day” has been defined as a sealed meeting in the NBA. This Monday’s nine matchups will provide the impetus for the evening. The media talks about it, brands are promoted, and revenues increase. Because sport is something to be pampered at this level. That doesn’t stop it from being honest in the case of American basketball.

NBA schedule for this Monday, January 16:
Charlotte Hornets – Boston Celtics (19:00)
Milwaukee Bucks – Indiana Pacers (20:30)
New York Knicks – Toronto Raptors (21:00)
Washington Wizards-Golden State Warriors (21:00)
Cleveland Cavaliers – New Orleans Pelicans (21:00)
Atlanta Hawks-Miami Heat (21:30)
Minnesota Timberwolves – Utah Jazz (22:00)
Memphis Grizzlies – Phoenix Suns (00h)
Los Angeles Lakers – Houston Rockets (4:30)

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