In Earl Lloyd’s induction into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2003, he said, “My career has been influenced by two groups. There is a group that told me what to do […] and there was a group that showed what should I do.”
Twenty years later, the Earl Lloyd Sports Legacy Symposium — named for the center that was the first black basketball player to break the league’s color barrier in 1950 — honored four sports icons who showed the world the qualities associated with Martin Luther King Jr. his work and spirit with its annual National Civil Rights Museum Sports Legacy Awards.
Gary Payton, Luol Deng, Nancy Lieberman and Eddie George were recognized this weekend not only for their athletic achievements, but also for their contributions to their communities, as they were recognized in the 18th year of the award.
“[Being an honoree] means all because of what Dr. King stood for.” Lieberman said, who said her friendship with Lloyd deepened the emotion of the occasion for her. “AND [for] what the Memphis Grizzlies are doing so that his legacy will never be forgotten.”
A message from Dr. King, who spent his last days in Memphis, was the focal point of the honorees’ journey.
From attending a symposium to participating in a panel discussion for the National Civil Rights Museum’s Intersection of Race & Sports, they delved into the city’s rich civil rights history.
On Sunday, like them toured the museum along with luminaries like Danny Green and Grant Hill, they followed in the footsteps of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. almost 55 years ago, when he was murdered in the former Lorraine Motel on the night of April 4, 1968.
Reflecting on Dr. King’s work, Lieberman said she hopes for the impact this generation of athletes can have in honoring and expanding his legacy.
“I really think young America is really getting it,” Lieberman said. “They understand the fact that they want change and that they have the power to change. It’s a big responsibility.
“My generation must look to the next generation as guardians of not only the game of basketball, but the game of life. And I’m so sure that the players in the NBA, the players in the [NBA] The G League, the players in the WNBA, the Big 3, all these major leagues are looking for something really powerful in the name of equality.”
One of those young players is Grizzlies center Jaren Jackson Jr., who is featured in ‘Change,’ a feature spotlighting the NBA’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day. for the year 2023.
Jackson Jr. he reflected on the meaning of being a part of the city’s history, not only as a player, but also as a character involved in its future.
“[Playing in Memphis on MLK day] it means so much just because there’s so much history in the city,” Jackson Jr. said. for NBA.com.
“There is so much we can do in terms of giving back. It just goes hand in hand [with] what it means for the city and everyone on and off the field. And we’re just glad to be a part of it and do our part.”
The Grizzlies host the Suns (6 p.m. ET, TNT) to conclude their MLK weekend activities, where Lieberman and other honorees will be celebrated before kickoff.
Lieberman said she was “beyond honored” by the recognition.
As she moves forward, she said she will continue to work in the spirit that put her there.
“I’m proud of the NBA, I’m proud of the Grizzlies and I’m beyond honored that they want me to be a part of this next MLK Day weekend.” Lieberman said.
“As long as the good God gives me energy, focus, strength and health, I will be on the front line with my brothers and sisters.”
Find the full schedule of Memphis’ MLK weekend activations here.