Each February, America, Canada and the UK celebrate Black History Month.
This is an important part of recognising Black culture and the impact it has had on our global society. The month-long festival has been around now for over 35 years, with its origins tracing back as far as 1923.
February is not a random choice either, it was chosen in recognition of both Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglas who played important roles in the advancement of African-Americans in the US. Both were born in February, Lincoln on the 12th and Douglas on the 14th.
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But what does that have to do with sports? Well, when it comes to professional leagues, the NBA continues to be at the forefront in driving diversity and valuing different cultures.
For a number of years now, the NBA has publicly supported Black History Month. 2016 is no different and the NBA will celebrate with various events and features throughout the month. The most visual of which is the warm-up shirts that each of the league’s 30 teams is wearing on game nights.
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Using the age old eye-test, it is clear that the modern NBA is a predominately Black league, in terms of the player population.
In fact, according to The National Basketball Association Racial & Gender Report Card 2015 (an annual study by Dr Richard Lapchick of The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport (TIDES) at the University of Central Florida), the percentage of African-American and Black players in the NBA was 74.4% for the 2014-15 season.
Whilst the report praised the NBA’s diversity and inclusivity, things have not always been this way.
The NBA was formed in 1946 in a time when race relations in the US were in a dire state of affairs. Given the current percentage of the Black players in the league, it seems unbelievable that it took until the 1950-51 for the first Black athletes to enter the league.
Perhaps even more far-fetched was that it took another four years for the US Supreme Court to declare that racial segregation was unconstitutional. And we didn’t even get to the Civil Rights movement until the 1960s.
Although as a society we seem to have come a long way in the last 100 years, race is still an issue in the modern world that continues to rear its ugly head.
As recently as 2013, the leagues forced sale of the LA Clippers brought to public attention that, even in a predominantly Black league, unacceptable and archaic opinions were still held. This situation highlighting that we still have a long way to go.
Then new commissioner Adam Silver handled the situation swiftly and decisively confirming that “sentiments of this kind are contrary to the principles of inclusion and respect that form the foundation of our diverse, multi-cultural and multi-ethnic league”.
The NBA has a vastly diverse audience and a global appeal. Black History Month provides the league with an opportunity to tell some of the stories that have been lost to the annals of history.
Each team celebrates February in its own way. The Charlotte Hornets, for instance, paid homage to African-Americans who broke down barriers in the military, education and politics.
Black History Month is not just about looking back, though. It’s about engaging young minds and encouraging the future generations to build upon the sacrifices of their forebears for the betterment of all.
The Golden State Warriors, who are creating their own history at the moment, put the below video together.
Of course, with this being the NBA, it wouldn’t be celebration of history without some on-court action celebrating the contributions of black athletes within the sport. The Sacramento Kings are paying tribute to both their franchises and the wider league in their Black History Month intro.
With a topic of this magnitude, it is impossible to scratch the surface in a month, let alone a single article.
Throughout February GMS will also be bringing you some stories on the pioneering African-Americans in NBA history. Those pioneers who broke through the race barrier and overcame the odds to help create the fantastic league we get to enjoy now. Stay tuned.