Kings players and coaches express appreciation for playing on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, while valuing his dream of equality and freedom.
Every third Monday in January, the U.S. honors and remembers iconic civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr., whose hope for freedom, equality and justice are recognized and revered by Sacramento Kings players and coaches.
“He’s obviously a very inspirational figure in the world today, not just to the African-American culture, but cultures throughout the world,” says Jason Thompson “When it comes to Black History Month, he’s always one of the first people mentioned – along with Malcolm X, Rosa Parks and so many more – and we give him the respect that is well-deserved for how much he sacrificed.”
Thompson’s teammates equally appreciate King’s lasting efforts, and feel privileged to compete on the day when his immeasurable impact is celebrated.
“We wouldn’t be playing if it weren’t for him, and we wouldn’t be where we are, accomplishing the things we’re accomplishing, without him,” says John Salmons.
Reflecting on the impact of King’s movement, Isaiah Thomas admires his courage and determination in advocating his beliefs.
“He changed life, not just for African Americans, but for everybody, (by saying) everybody should be equal, and I just respect him so much for standing his ground,” says No. 22. “A lot of people thought like he did, but they were too scared to say the things he said.”
Assistant Coach Bobby Jackson is humbled to have both played and coached on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
“It’s always an honor to be able to be associated with that special day,” says Jackson. “To honor him and to celebrate the things he’s done for his country, his family and for this world, I think is huge, and I’m just happy to be a part of it.
“(His message is) a stepping stone for what this country stands for – he’s opened the door for so many cultures, so many nationalities, and I think without him taking a stand, this country wouldn’t be where it is today.”
Visualizing the reception King received after delivering his powerful “I Have A Dream” speech on Aug. 28, 1963, Jackson pictures himself clapping amongst the crowd on one of the most significant days in American history.
“I wish I would’ve been there,” says Jackson. “It’s always (interesting to) go back and look at the film, see that great speech, see how many people he touched, see how many lives he changed, see how the world has progressed and how far we have come.”
Nearly 50 years later, King’s words resonate just as strongly among Kings players and coaches, providing both motivation and comfort.
“’That my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character,’” recites Thomas from memory. “That stuck with me the first time I read his speech – I think everybody should be judged and treated by how they act and not how they look.”
Head Coach Keith Smart says King’s work has made a lasting impact on his basketball journey – one in which he’s strived to set a positive example and serve as inspiration for future generations.
“I’ve always felt we’re setting the tone for people who are going to come after us,” he says. “I think that as players and coaches, we’re all trying to pave the way for the next person, so when a young player or an aspiring coach sees how I’m handling myself in a certain situation, he can say, ‘I like what Coach Smart has done,’ just as I looked at a couple of guys ahead of me.”
As the team demonstrates its appreciation for the renowned community activist while taking the court against New Orleans on Monday, Thomas Robinson believes the nation should show its gratitude for King’s efforts by studying his lasting legacy.
“I think playing or not playing, you should give thanks, regardless,” he says. “You should know the history and know why you’re able to have a free life (because) he opened up doorways for us to live.”
WATCH: Sacramento Kings MLK 2013