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Grizzlies walk ‘the talk’ with MLK celebration

  • Written by Kelley Evans
  • Published in News
On Monday, January 17 – the day the nation recognizes the annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service – the Grizzlies and a crew of partners will host the Ninth Annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day Celebration. Dial back several years and a conversation comes into play involving Memphis Grizzlies owner Michael Heisley, former Memphis Mayor Dr. Willie W. Herenton and Beverly Robertson, president of the National Civil Rights Museum. They talked about recognizing and celebrating the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. from a platform anchored by the Grizzlies and the NBA.

On Monday, January 17 – the day the nation recognizes the annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service – the Grizzlies and a crew of partners will host the Ninth Annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day Celebration.

 “Once the idea came to fruition, the NBA welcomed it with opened arms,” said John Pugliese, senior director of marketing and communications for the Grizzlies.

At the core of the multi-pronged event will be a nationally televised game between the Grizzlies and the Derek Rose-led Chicago Bulls. Prior to the game, sports legends Willie Mays, Willis Reed and Lenny Wilkens will be the latest recipients of the Sports Legacy Award presented by FedEx.

And afterwards, the celebration at the FedExForum continues with the MLK Jr. Day High School Classic featuring games between Central High School’s Warriors and the Southwind Jaguars, and the Dyer County Choctaws against the White Station Spartans.

The initial celebration in what has become a Memphis tradition included the recognition of Mannie Jackson, now the owner of the Harlem Globetrotters. Recalling one particularly poignant moment, Pugliese said that first celebration was the most memorable for him.

The moment involved NBA legend and Boston Celtic great Bill Russell guiding the wheelchair of former University of Memphis star player and head basketball coach Larry Finch as the two were both honored in front of thousands at the Pyramid.  

“It really brought tears to a lot of people,” said Pugliese.

For the past six years, the Grizzlies and the National Civil Rights Museum have given out the Sports Legacy Award that pays tribute to athletes, who – in the spirit of Dr. King – have made significant contributions to civil and human rights.

This year, baseball icon Willie Mays will be honored, along with NBA Hall-of-Famers Willis Reed and Lenny Wilkens.

 “This is the first year that we will be honoring a non-basketball person,” Pugliese said. “There are a lot of deserving people who’ve done amazing work in the community and have carried on King’s legacy.”

Greg Campbell, Grizzlies President of Business Operations, said, “We are humbled to have the opportunity to honor three individuals whose work not only as ballplayers, but also champions of civil and human rights away from the game helped set the standard for generations.”

The day will begin with the Martin Luther King Jr. Day Sports Legacy Symposium presented by the Hyde Family Foundation. The symposium will feature Mays, Reed and Wilkens, who will share their stories and experiences.

Acclaimed rhythm and blues, gospel singer and civil rights activist Mavis Staples will perform the National Anthem. The halftime ceremony, presented by MLGW, will feature a special Martin Luther King Jr. video tribute, recognition of Mays, Reed and Wilkens and a performance by Staples, who rose to fame as a member of her family’s band, The Staples Singers. Staples returned to prominence this year with her critically acclaimed solo album, “You are Not Alone.”

Other sponsors include the City of Memphis, Shelby County Government, The Great American Home Store, SunTrust, State Farm, McDonald’s, Lexus and Delta.

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