03/06 01:49 CST At the NBA All-Star Game, HBCUs will take center stage
At the NBA All-Star Game, HBCUs will take center stage
By TIM REYNOLDS
AP Basketball Writer
Mo Williams played for the Eastern Conference in the 2009 NBA All-Star Game,
and he fully understands the enormity of the event's platform.
His team lost that game.
His current team --- and a lot of others --- should be big winners this time
Sunday's All-Star Game in Atlanta is generating $3 million for Historically
Black Colleges and Universities, through donations to scholarship funds. But
the actual value to those schools will far exceed that influx of cash, with
almost every All-Star element set to showcase and celebrate HBCU traditions and
"Everything's about exposure," said Williams, who played 13 NBA seasons and now
is a first-year coach at Alabama State of the Southwestern Athletic Conference.
"Being that the All-Star Game is putting an emphasis on HBCUs, it gives us
exposure, and it helps in a lot of different areas, a lot of different ways, a
lot of different schools.
"It's no different from Super Bowl commercials. People spend millions of
dollars to put their commercial on the Super Bowl for the exposure. And, you
know, the exposure we're getting this weekend from the NBA All-Star Game, it
only can help."
Those Super Bowl ads can be as short as 30 seconds.
This exposure is going to last several hours --- and cover almost every aspect
of the NBA's midseason showcase.
The court was designed in collaboration from artists who attended HBCU schools.
The famed bands from Grambling State and Florida A&M will perform during the
player introductions. Clark Atlanta University's Philharmonic Society Choir
will perform "Lift Every Voice and Sing," commonly called the Black national
anthem. Gladys Knight, a graduate of one of the nation's oldest HBCUs in Shaw
University, will sing "The Star-Spangled Banner." The refereeing crew of Tom
Washington, Tony Brown and Courtney Kirkland all are HBCU graduates.
"We are here representing HBCUs and trying to shed light on their ability to
dream and one day have the opportunity to follow in our footsteps," Brown said.
"So, this game is mainly about giving people hope and allowing them an
opportunity to dream."
The timing and location --- Atlanta, birthplace of Dr. Martin Luther King ---
to pay tribute to HBCUs seems right.
During the past year, racial injustice has become perhaps more of a national
discussion point than at any time in a generation. It also saw history, with
Kamala Harris --- a graduate of Howard --- becoming not only the first woman to
be elected vice president but the first HBCU graduate in the White House.
Harris is a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha, one of the Divine Nine fraternities
and sororities, groups that the NBA is also paying tribute to Sunday.
NBA players used their platform in the league's bubble restart last summer to
speak out against inequality. They were often at the center of the Black Lives
Matter movement in response to the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and
"You can't talk about Black Lives Matter and not talk about the Historically
Black Colleges and Universities," said Charles McClelland, the commissioner of
the SWAC and a member of the NCAA Men's Division I Basketball Committee. "A lot
of these student-athletes have been talking. A lot of these professional
athletes have been talking. But the platform really wasn't that great for them
to be able to extend that message. This is just in a unique time, and I think
we're at the right time, and I'm ecstatic that it's happening at this point in
time --- because it's so long overdue."
The NBA has just one active player who attended an HBCU: Portland's Robert
Covington, who went to Tennessee State. He was invited to be part of the skills
challenge, which will precede Sunday's game and typically is part of All-Star
Saturday night; the events were condensed to one night this year because of the
Covington realized the significance of this moment. He could have been on
vacation. He went to Atlanta instead.
"I just want to leave a legacy," Covington said. "I want to leave my mark and I
want to let kids know that anything is possible."
That message has resonated in recent months.
Some top basketball recruits have said they were considering bucking offers
from traditional powers to attend HBCUs. Pro Football Hall of Famer Deion
Sanders has taken over as football coach at Jackson State, giving that school
instant notoriety. And as the first half of the NBA season wound down, LeBron
James of the Los Angeles Lakers played in a pair of sneakers that paid tribute
to Florida A&M --- a school that just finalized a six-year deal with Nike to
play in James' line of uniforms, apparel and footwear.
This game will provide more boosts.
The Thurgood Marshall College Fund and United Negro College Fund will collect a
total of $3 million, if not more. And HBCUs everywhere will share in the
investment of time on a huge platform if nothing else.
"To highlight the significance of HBCUs, it is a tremendous windfall,"
McClelland said. "It's not just about the money. The exposure is going to allow
students to go to our member institutions, to learn about our history, to learn
about our culture. What they're doing for the All-Star Game, we could not pay
for and we could not duplicate."
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