I love this game.
I truly do.
Since it’s beginning, basketball has been a tool used to bridge the gaps between people. When on the floor, the only segregation is that of the two teams competing against each other. The only colors that matter are the ones on jerseys. There’s only one race and that’s the race to have the highest score at the end of the game. If two worst enemies are rooting for the same team and the star player hits a buzzer beater to win the chip, they’re likely to jump in each others arms.
Black and white is hated EQUALLY by everyone…
Basketball is like therapy for the masses. In the game of basketball, we’re not taught to hate, or detest the opponent. We’re taught to compete. We don’t have wars, we have rivalries.
The seemingly life long match-up between Magic and Bird will not only be remembered as the greatest battle between two of the best ball players to ever play, but also as an example of how basketball has literally brought the entire country together. Here are two men who come from two completely different backgrounds, cultures and set of beliefs yet they always had one thing in common and used that ONE THING to form a lifelong friendship.
Because of basketball, their bond will never be broken.
So many other people- players, fans, coaches- can say the same thing. Basketball breaks barriers.
(Boston Celtics player Bill Russell celebrated with Celtics coach Red Auerbach after defeating the Lakers to win their eighth-straight NBA Championship in Boston on April 29, 1966. Two years before Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated.)
Basketball has perpetuated the acceptance of people from different cultures. Initially, a great player like Allen Iverson was often chastised by his team, some of the team’s fans and the NBA’s front office because his overall image was different from what everyone wanted it to be. The way he dressed, spoke, walked- everything was different from the “norm”.
Ultimately, it was Iverson’s superb talent that was able to transcend the issues people had with his image. His game did the talking.
Today, as I reflect on all of the ways Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was able to bring people together, I can’t help but connect ball. It’s only fitting that there are 31 NCAA basketball games being played, 13 NBA games being played, and hundreds of high school and lower level games being played. Even if he’s never touched a ball or tuned into a game, I’m sure he loves this game.
So, as I tune in to a full day of games, I say thank you.
Thank you Dr. King. Thank you Magic and Bird. Thank you Iverson. Thank you Red Auerbach and Bill Russell. Thank you Naismith. Thank you fellow basketball enthusiasts.
In between timeouts and commercials, take some time to read a few facts about the integration of basketball over the years.
- In 1908 Tuskegee University began playing basketball
- From 1907 through the 1920s, black teams competed for “the Colored Basketball World Championship
- Harry Lew was the first African American to play professional basketball, for the white New England Basketball League in 1902
- George Gregory, Jr., the 6’4″ captain and center of the Columbia University team from 1928–1931, became the first African-American all-American college basketball player, in 1931.
- UCLA also had Don Barksdale, the first African-American consensus all-American basketball player in 1947. Barksdale would later be the first African-American to win an Olympic basketball gold medal, and would be the third African-American to sign an NBA contract. He was the first African-American to play in the NBA All-Star Game.
- In 1947, William Garrett integrated big-time college basketball by joining the basketball program at Indiana University. He broke the gentleman’s agreement that had barred black players from the Big Ten Conference, at that time college basketball’s most important conference. While enduring taunts from opponents and pervasive segregation at home and on the road, Garrett became the best player Indiana had ever had, an all-American. Within a year of his graduation from IU, there were six African-American basketball players on Big Ten teams.
- In 1970, Illinois State hired Will Robinson as the first African-American head coach of a major college basketball program
- In 1984, John Thompson Jr. became the first African-American head coach to win the NCAA Men’s Division I Basketball Championship when the Georgetown Hoyas defeated the University of Houston 84-75. In 2007, his son, John Thompson III led the Hoyas to the Final Four becoming the first father-son coaching duo, regardless of race, to lead their respective teams to a Final Four appearance
- In 1950, the NBA officially broke the color line. Chuck Cooper of Duquesne University was the first black player drafted, by the Boston Celtics
- In 1964 the Celtics fielded the first all-black starting lineup in the league
- Boston that made Bill Russell the first black coach in NBA history