Retired NBA players reflect on Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream”

basketball-court50 years ago, King delivered his historic “I Have a Dream” speech. Dr. King moved more than 250,000 spectators on August 28, 1963 with his iconic voice and created a landmark moment for race relations in the United States.

Certainly sports were not immune to the ugliness of segregation and many within the NBRPA lived it.

Those that played professional basketball after the days of segregation still felt certain racial tensions that accompanied the civil rights movement of the 1960s and 1970s. Race relations continue to play a role in professional basketball, just as they do in our society as a whole.

NBRPA Member Earl Lloyd was the first pioneer to walk through the door, when he became the first African-American player to participate in an NBA game on Halloween night of 1950.

Hundreds upon hundreds of African American NBRPA Members followed in his footsteps, changing the make-up of professional basketball and impacting America’s racial profile.

In honor of Martin Luther King Day and the recent 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, the editors of spoke with several NBRPA Members from various generations about their reflections on this watershed moment and civil rights overall. Here are their thoughtful comments and reflections.

al-attlesAL ATTLES (NBA 1960-1971)
(I Have a Dream) alleviated a lot of the things that went on during that time. I was fortunate enough to go to school in Greensboro, NC (at North Carolina A&T), where a lot of us took part in sit down strikes and demonstrations.

I went to college with a number of people who worked with Dr. King and it’s really a revelation what he was trying to do for all people. I think we’ve made some progress, but we still have a long way to go. The people who are involved (in civil rights)now are doing a great job, but it has to be two sides working on it to for it to actually get done.

Al Attles played 11 seasons in the NBA, appearing in total of 711 games, averaging 8.9 ppg, 3.5 apg and 3.5 rpg in 25.1 mpg.

mack-calvinMACK CALVIN (ABA 1969-1976, NBA 1976-1981)
(I Have a Dream) means freedom for all. Martin Luther King’s speech is a prophetic spiritual statement that represents a vision that he saw in the coming future where there would be freedom, love, and compassion for one another. It made no difference what your ethnicity was or whether you’re gay or straight or black, brown or red.

When I started in the late 1960’s, there was a quarter system in professional basketball that only allowed I think three African Americans on a team. So if you see where we’ve come today, it’s opening up not only for African Americans, but people of all ethnicities. That is, if you have the talent and opportunity to play.

I think that’s part of the speech. I view it as a prophetic vision that Martin Luther King had at the time, because no one could’ve foreseen where we would be today. So yes it has impacted me a great deal as an African American man. Again, we have so far to go and I hope to continue to do my part as an African American in my community to fulfill the prophecy and the dream of Dr. Martin Luther King.

Mack Calvin played both in the NBA (222 games) and ABA (533 games). He holds career averages of 7.0 ppg in NBA and 19.9 in ABA. In total, Calvin played in 755 games, averaging 16.1 ppgand 4.8 apg in 28.6 mpg. He was also a 5-time ABA All-Star.

joe-barry-carrollJOE BARRY CARROLL (NBA 1980-1991)
(I Have A Dream) was aspirational as well as inspirational. It’s what we hoped for and gives most of us the inspiration to reach to that. I’m grateful for the sacrifices that those who went before me made.

The gratitude is tremendous and I am so grateful for the efforts that players made to pave the way for players coming in as well as people outside of basketball especially those who were working hard to make things better. I try to do whatever I can now to help those have a better understanding about our generation.

Carroll averaged career high 24.1 ppg and 2.0 bpg for the Warriors during the 1982-1983 season. He continued averaging over 20 ppg up until 1986-1987 season, during which he was chosen for the NBA All-Star team. He appeared in 705 NBA games, averaging 17.7 ppg, 7.7 rpg and 1.6 bpg in 32.4 minutes on the court.

harvey-catchingsHARVEY CATCHINGS (NBA 1974-1985)
As I rewind my memory back to the March on Washington that was held on August 28, 1963 in Washington, DC, I remember – at the tender age of almost 12 – seeing it on television. My mother and father made sure that I watched most of the program, even though I wanted to go outside and play. (My parents) had respect and fear of what this would mean to our area because, Jackson, Miss. was not the most liberal thinking city in the South.

The March on Washington probably opened the eyes of a lot of black people in our area because that was one of the proudest days when they saw thousands and thousands of people around the fountain, as I called it back then, listening to a man that looked like me talk about a dream that he had about our future.

Things truly started changing in our city, there was a cry for integration and the tension started to build. I remember seeing the water fountains downtown with the signs. The white only signs over the fountains were almost pristine and proper. The colored signs and fountain showed tremendous signs of wear and tear and the fountains themselves were in disrepair, showing the superiority of whites in society. I never really thought about the significance of it at the time, because my parents would never let me drink out of them. I guess they were setting the stage for my thinking that we are all equal in the eyes of God, so why should I think less of myself.

There are moments that shape who we are and after taking an inventory of the many episodes, (I Have a Dream) has to rank in the top three events of my life. I commend Dr. Martin Luther King for his courage and commitment to trying to get people to just do the right thing. Here we are 50 years later, and unfortunately, the fight continues for equality.

Catchings spent 11 seasons in the NBA, mostly being known for his shot-blocking ability. He averaged 3.2 ppg, 5 rpg and 1.7 bpg in 18.2 mpg in career 725 NBA games.

spencer-haywoodSPENCER HAYWOOD (ABA 1969-1970, NBA 1970-1983)
The issues (Martin Luther King) was addressing back then are similar to what is going on today – voting, jobs, equality for women, better education for our students. I mean that’s what the whole speech was about.

I’ve been posting to my Facebook page some of my favorite quotes by Martin Luther King, such as “There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us,” “We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools,” and “We may have come on different ships, but we’re in the same boat now.” All of these great thoughts remain true today.

Haywood was a 5-time NBA All-Star, who played both in the NBA and ABA. He appeared in 84 ABA games, averaging 30 ppg and 19.5 rpg.In the NBA, Haywood played 760 games, holding career averages of 19.2 ppg, 9.3 rpg. Overall, Haywood played 844 games (ABA, NBA), averaging 20.3 ppg and 10.3 rpg in 34.8 mpg.

major-jonesMAJOR JONES (NBA 1979-1985)
(I Have a Dream) means there’s hope – from the time back then until now. There is still hope, but we have a ways to go. (The civil rights movement) has impacted me greatly. It made me realize what our ancestors went through. It also made me realize what my parents went through.

The hardships that they faced and the glimmer of hope they had to be able to endure those things. It gives me hope that although we haven’t achieved full equality there’s still hope. I must do everything in my power to try and make sure that moving forward I do everything I can to get Dr. King’s dream and his legacy fulfilled.

Major Jones played 6 seasons in the NBA, 5 of them for the Houston Rockets. He averaged career high 5.7 ppg and 4.4 rpg for the team in 1982-83 season. Jones appeared in total of 374 NBA games, and holds career averages of 4.4 ppg, 3.5 rpg in 13.5 mpg.

earl-lloydEARL LLOYD (NBA 1950-1960)
(I Have a Dream) meant to me that there are some (loving) people here on this earth. We’ve come a long way since then (in civil rights), but the sad part about it is that a lot of folks don’t understand loving. If you take a closer look at what’s happening today, if Martin Luther King rose out of his grave tomorrow, he’d cry like a little baby.

It’s the same old, same old … we just wear different kinds of clothes. Let me tell you, hatred is a terrible thing. All you can do is be the best person you can be.

Lloyd played a total of 9 years in the old NBA, appearing in 560 games, averaging 8.4 ppg, 6.4 rpg in 26.2 minutes of playing time. His best season, was in 54-55, when he played for Syracuse, averaging double-figures in scoring with 10.2 ppg.



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