By SAMANTHA SMITH, Staff Writer | Published July 7, 2021
ATLANTA—Fans cheered on the Atlanta Hawks into the eastern conference finals this season, the “greatest postseason run in Atlanta Hawks history,” as described by the team’s Twitter feed.
On Oct. 4, 2020, the team announced a partnership between the estate of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the National Basketball Association (NBA), the National Basketball Players Association (NBPA) and Nike, releasing the 2020-2021 MLK Nike edition uniform.
This is the first time in the league’s history that an individual’s initials are featured prominently on the chest of an official NBA game uniform, according to the NBA. And even the Holy Father has one of the special edition jerseys.
The black, gold and white colors used on the uniforms and coordinating basketball court, unveiled in late 2020, represent many facets of Dr. King’s life, the team’s commitment to community, competition and the ideals of equality. The team logo in the center of the court is in a mosaic pattern representing a stained glass motif inspired by church windows.
Sharecare, a corporate work study partner with Cristo Rey Atlanta Jesuit High School, is featured on the special edition jersey, representing a “shared passion and pride for our world changing leaders like Dr. King, whose life’s works paved the way for happier, healthier and more equitable futures for all.”
“In today’s world, which increasingly faces the challenges of social injustice, division and conflict that hinder the realization of the common good, Dr. King’s dream of harmony and equality for all people, attained through non violent and peaceful means, remains very timely,” said Pope Francis at a service honoring Dr. King on Jan. 18.
A delegation from the NBPA met with the Pope on Nov. 23, 2020. According to the union, the meeting “provided an opportunity for the players to discuss their individual and collective efforts on social and economic injustice and inequality occurring in their communities.”
Five NBA players who pursue various social justice initiatives came to the Vatican. One being Kyle Korver, a former Hawks player who competed with the team for five years.
“We are extremely honored to have had this opportunity to come to the Vatican and share our experiences with Pope Francis,” said Korver. “His openness and eagerness to discuss these issues was inspiring and a reminder that our work has had a global impact and must continue moving forward.”
The Atlanta team sent a special edition uniform to the Vatican, featuring the number one with “Francis” on the back for the pope. On Jan. 15, the birthday of Dr. King, he blessed the jersey.
The Hawks competed for the first time in the special uniform during their annual MLK holiday home game against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Jan. 18. The team has worn the uniform throughout the season including playoff games.
“It is an incredible privilege to be able to represent the legacy of Dr. King, one of Atlanta’s native sons and one the nation’s transformative leaders,” said Melissa Proctor, the Hawks chief marketing officer. “His message of equality, non violence and justice is as relevant today as it was in the 60s and we are proud to not only help educate legions of young fans about Dr. King’s work, but empower them to pick up his mantle and embody the change they wish to see in their communities.”
As part of their #EarnTheseLetters campaign for the jerseys, the Hawks encourage fans to make positive change by serving as poll workers, coaching youth teams and volunteering in their communities. Proceeds from the MLK special edition jerseys will support economic empowerment programs for communities of color in Atlanta.
The Hawks’ season ended on July 3, losing to the Milwaukee Bucks in the Eastern Conference Finals. It was announced July 5 that Nate McMillan, interim head coach for the Hawks, would become the team’s head coach for at least the next four years.