Sports leagues, teams, and players pay tribute on MLK Day


The sports world joined the rest of the US and many beyond who celebrated the federal holiday marking the birthday of civil rights icon Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

All of the major North American sports leagues paid tribute to King on social media -- as well as on the court in the case of the NBA. The league's annual MLK Day festivities were marked by player speeches, special-edition uniforms, and unique court designs.

King's hometown Atlanta Hawks rendered their center-court logo in stained glass in tribute to the slain Baptist minister, who was famed for his gripping and moving sermons.

NBA cable partner TNT, which is based in Atlanta, posted a video explainer of how the Hawks decided on the various ways to honor King.

The NFL recalled one of King's most often-cited quotes, while the NBA boldly declared that its values and King's teachings are "inextricably linked."

Meanwhile MLB spotlighted King's relationships with some of the game's earliest trailblazers, including Jackie Robinson, Larry Doby, Don Newcombe, and Curt Flood.

A league-affiliated account also posted a sweet photo of King playing backyard ball with his daughter.

King, who was assassinated in April 1968, had strong relationships with many activist-athletes of his day, Deadspin reported, including Robinson and Muhammad Ali.

“He was a pilgrim that walked in the lonesome byways toward the high road of Freedom," King reportedly once said of Robinson. "He was a sit-inner before sit-ins, a freedom rider before freedom rides."

Athletes former and present expressed their appreciation for the avenues that King opened for them.

Dallas Cowboys legend Emmitt Smith said King's words still "ring true."

"In these times, Dr. King's words ring true as he called for us to 'create a beloved community,' Smith said. "We celebrate his legacy today, looking to make his dream a reality for both now and the future."

Timberwolves reserve Jarred Vanderbilt called attention to his MLK tattoo.

The NHL and player JT Brown poignantly noted that trailblazer Willie O'Ree broke the league's color barrier on King's birthday.

Grizzlies players Kyle Andrerson and Tyus Jones were among the many to honor King, whose life was cut tragically short at a Memphis motel.

Anderson rocked a black hoodie featuring a print of King in his famous pensive pose.

Cleveland Cavaliers star Kevin Love, who has been outspoken in his support of movements for justice, was one of several NBA players interviewed by ESPN on the occasion of the holiday.

Love said the past year has proven that work remains despite King's achievements, and it's incumbent on white people to play their role in helping to achieve racial justice.

"Why is it so hard for white people to talk about race?" Love said. "Just asking that question is going to trigger a lot of people, but also, hopefully, it has people looking in the mirror."

Rockets guard Eric Gordon was among several Houston stars who discussed the importance of the holiday.

"Dr. Martin Luther King brought everybody together, and he sacrificed his life to do so," Gordon said.

The New York Knicks played the Orlando Magic in the first of a full day of games, and marked the occasion prior to tip off on the PA system. Rookies Obi Toppin and Immanuel Quickley took to center court to honor King, and explain what it meant to play on Monday.

"Martin Luther King Jr. showed us what it means to be a great leader," Toppin said, "and he also showed us how powerful our voices can be."

"We want to thank Dr. King for all he's done," Quickley said. "He paved the way for the future generations, and we just want to continue to honor his legacy."

Countless other teams who were set to play on Monday, including the Bulls, Mavericks and Pistons, posted tributes from players and touted club-sponsored philanthropic endeavors which have been taken up in King's name.