The news of the assassination of Martin Luther King, shot dead 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, is about to speak at a rally in Indianapolis, in a poor and predominantly African-American neighborhood. A large crowd gathered on site to listen to the senator. From the back of a truck, the Democratic candidate announces the death of the Baptist pastor. People then start screaming, screaming, crying.
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 is in shock. His club was the first to simultaneously field five African-American basketball players in an NBA game, but also to appoint him coach, he who is also African-American. The day after the assassination, his team must play in the Eastern Conference Finals against the Philadelphia Sixters. Many imagine that the match will be postponed, believing impossible, even inconceivable, that the NBA, a majority black league, could maintain it. The two teams then had thirteen black players in total (out of twenty), and all of them initially proposed 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 the National Basket Association (NBA) finally decided to maintain the final, which did not surprise many supporters of King. “Many considered him an enemy in the United States,” Oscar Roberston, one of the Celtics’ best players, would later say. 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 which will be donated to his movement.
Today, nearly 75% of players playing in the NBA are African-American
Years earlier, when Martin Luther King, born in 1929 in Atlanta, had not yet been talked about (he was chosen in December 1955 to chair the Association for Progress in Montgomery), Earl Lloyd became the October 31, 1950, the first black player to participate in an NBA game – a league then reserved for white men – with the Washington Capitols team. Which will make him one of the pioneers in the fight against racial segregation. Today, nearly 75% of players playing in the NBA are African-American.
Between Martin Luther King and the world of basketball, the ties were strong. The black players supported the pastor’s fight for civil rights, even if all of them, no doubt to avoid possible trouble, did not openly affirm it. Others had chosen to participate in actions organized by MLK, such as the “march on Washington” on August 28, 1963. Bill Russel, who knew him personally, was in the front row on that famous day when King gave his famous speech. , « I have a dream ».
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar rallied to the cause
Another NBA star, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, born in Harlem, where the ideas of Malcolm X were in the majority, attended at 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 a little more militant every day , getting involved in the movement of the pastor, while continuing his career as a basketball player in the prestigious university championship.
George Floyd: the visionary speech of Malcolm X in Africa
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who became a member of the Negro Industrial Economic Union, a society for the emancipation of black people founded by Jim Brown, an American football player for the Cleveland Browns, will no longer hesitate to speak in public to oppose to racism, taking advantage of his star status to speak out on the subject.
Black Lives Matter spokesperson
In 1984, the arrival of David Stern as president of the NBA profoundly changed the image of the body. Since 1986, even though Ronald Reagan, the American president, opposed this initiative, MLK Day has invariably taken place on the third Monday of January. The NBA participates very actively in this commemoration as a league, multiplying the initiatives during this day. Its objective is not only to honor the memory of King, but also to organize events around the main theses of his fight. Individual and collective actions are carried out, several teams wear flocked jerseys of the famous « I Have a dream ».
Black Lives Matter: black anger
Since the death of George Floyd in May 2020, killed by a police officer, the NBA has even set itself the task of becoming one of the spokespersons for the Black Lives Matter movement. Even if MLK Day remains a subject of controversy in the United States, it is overwhelmingly supported by players, black and white, as well as by coaches.
Michael Jordan, one of the best players in the history of world basketball, was never an activist, but he still decided to donate $100 million to the fight against inequality between 2020 and 2030. The NBA Foundation has chosen to devote $300 million over the same period to economic emancipation. of the Noirs.