Wataru “Wat” Misaka becomes first non-white and first player of Asian descent to play professional basketball
Selected by the Knicks in the 1947 Basketball Association of America Draft, Misaka became both the first non-white player and first player of Asian descent to play in this precursor league that would become the National Basketball Association.
Coachman first Black woman to win Olmypic gold
Alice Coachman became the first Black woman to win an Olympic gold medal when she won the high jump for the U.S. at the 1948 London Olympics. Coachman was often turned away from athletic facilities growing up because of her race and sex and trained where she could. Following her win in the Olympics, Coachman became the first Black woman to endorse an international product when the Coca-Cola Company hired her as a spokesperson and featured her in billboard advertising with Jesse Owens. Coachman has been credited with helping open the door for future U.S. Black women’s track stars such as Evelyn Ashford, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, and Florence Griffith Joyner.
Bill Russell hosts first integrated basketball camp in Mississippi
Medgar Evers, the first state field secretary of the NAACP in Mississippi and a prominent civil rights activist that worked to enforce Brown v. Board of Education and investigated the murder of Emmett Till, is assassinated in his driveway on June 12, 1963. Following Evers’ murder by a Klansman — who wouldn’t be convicted of the murder until 31 years later — NBA star Russell travels to Mississippi on the invitation of Evers’ brother, Charles, to host an integrated basketball camp in segregated Mississippi. In a 2011 interview, Charles Evers recalls how members of the Ku Klux Klan stood across the street from the playground in efforts to intimidate Russell and organizers. The night before the camp, Charles, rifle in hand, was standing guard in Russell’s hotel room as there were several threats of violence.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar boycotts the 1968 Summer Olympics over unequal treatment of African-Americans
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar boycotted the 1968 Mexico City Summer Olympics as a way of protesting the inequalities faced by African-Americans.
Julius “Dr. J” Erving leads Nets to first ABA title
Julius “Dr. J” Erving is one of the most important players in the history of basketball. Erving led the Nets to their first ABA title in 1973–74, defeating the Utah Stars. His high-flying play style made him the face of the sport and his popularity was one of the primary reasons that the ABA merged with the NBA- changing the landscape of the sport and altering the trajectory for the league that we know and love today.
The WNBA launches
On April 24, 1996, women’s basketball announces “We Got Next” as the NBA Board of Governors approved the concept of a Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) to begin play in June 1997. For the next 25 years, the WNBA and its athletes stand at the forefront of using their platforms as a place to promote social justice and racial equity. From Sheryl Swoopes advancing equality for people identifying as LGTBQ+ to Maya Moore leaving to prompt criminal justice reform to wearing shirts with bullet holes following the shooting of Jacob Blake, championing social justice has always been an integral part of the W. “We are a walking protest at all times as a W.N.B.A. athlete,” Mistie Bass told the New York Times in 2020.“If you think about it, we have so many different stigmas. We’re just constantly in the fight. I don’t think we have ever not been in a fight for equality, for justice.”
Byron Scott becomes first and only coach to lead the Nets to the NBA Finals
In 2000, Scott took over a struggling New Jersey Nets team. He was the head coach that lead a dramatic franchise turnaround, as the Nets raced to a franchise record of 52 wins in only his second season in charge. In the process, they won their first Atlantic Division crown and appeared in their first NBA Finals against the Los Angeles Lakers. The Nets lost to the Lakers but returned to win the Eastern Conference again the following season, making it back-to-back NBA Finals appearances for Scott and co.
Bob Johnson Buys NBA Expansion Team in Charlotte
The NBA awards its expansion franchise in Charlotte to Robert L. Johnson, the founder of Black Entertainment Television, making him the first African American to become the principal owner of a major league sports team.
Erik Spoelstra is first Asian American head coach in any men’s major U.S. sports
In the spring of 2008, NBA icon Pat Riley steps down as Miami Heat head coach and handpicks the up-and-coming Spoelstra to replace him. Spoelstra, at 38, is the first Asian American to be the head coach of any team among the four major men’s U.S. sports – baseball, basketball, football and hockey. Spoelstra quickly establishes himself as one of the NBA’s best coaches, and over his career he coaches his Heat teams to five NBA Finals, winning two. Said Spoelstra in an ESPN The Undefeated interview: “I would love to be able to talk to owners, general managers and administrators in college, or athletic directors in high school,” Spoelstra, 49, said, “to be able to open their eyes to some very talented young coaches out here of a different ethnicity.” During the COVID-19 pandemic, Spoelstra also used his voice to speak out against the sharp rise in anti-Asian racism in the country, telling the Associated Press, “Look, I am Asian American. I’m proud to be Asian American. And seeing what’s happening, with another just outright form of racism and hatred, it really is sickening. It breaks my heart. It is despicable.”
The Phoenix Suns wear Los Suns jersey as an act of solidarity with member of the Hispanic Community in Arizona following the passage of a state law allowing police officers to question individuals who appear to be undocumented.
Jeremy Lin plays makes NBA history, then uses platform to stop Asian hate
Lin overcomes racism on the basketball court from a young age, recalling incidents of discrimination while playing as early as the sixth grade. It doesn’t stop Lin from pursuing his dream, however, and he becomes the first American of Chinese or Taiwanese descent to play in the NBA when he takes the court for the Warriors in 2010. But “Linsanity” doesn’t truly begin until the following year as a New York Knick when on Feb. 4, 2012, Lin scores 25 points against the Nets, sparking a seven-game winning streak. Less than a week later, Lin squares off against Kobe Bryant and the Lakers, scoring 38 points and launching himself into superstar status. Lin would become an NBA roster mainstay for the next decade, and in 2019 he becomes the first Asian American player to win an NBA title. As Lin begins reaching the end of his career, he begins using his platform more and more to combat racism. Lin says early in his life and career he was naïve to the racism, including systemic and subtle, or chose to ignore it. Lin truly embraces his position as an athlete with the influence to create social change starting in 2020 as hate against Asian Americans and the AAPI community rises during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Arizona State retires Navajo athlete Ryneldi Becenti’s jersey
Raised in Fort Defiance on the Navajo Nation reservation in Arizona, Becenti’s passion for basketball eventually takes her to Arizona State, where in the 1990s she stars for the women’s basketball team. She immediately lifts the program to the NCAA Tournament, a place it had not been for nearly a decade, and in 1997 she becomes the first Native American to play in the WNBA. Following a career that spans multiple continents, she returns to Arizona State in 2013 for the ceremony retiring her jersey. She was the first Sun Devils women’s basketball player to receive that honor.
Four NBA stars attend ESPYS Awards, calling for social change
Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, Dwyane Wade and LeBron James take the stage together at the 2016 ESPY Awards in Los Angeles and urge their fellow athletes to be leaders for racial justice and social change.
WNBA crowns Diana Taurasi as league’s all-time leading scorer
Taurasi, who identifies mostly as Argentine and Italian, is one of the most decorated basketball players of the last two decades and in June 2017 eclipses the WNBA’s all-time scoring mark. In 2009, Taurasi becomes the first Latina woman to win the WNBA Finals MVP. She might have trouble finding space for it on her mantel, as the hoops legend is a three-time collegiate national champion and WNBA champion, league rookie of the year, five-time scoring champion and former assists leader. Her excellence goes beyond the U.S. borders as she’s also won championships in Russia, Turkey and in the Euroleague.
New York Liberty Host First UNITY Game
In 2016, The Liberty’s UNITY social justice platform was initiated by players in response to the killings of unarmed Black men and women such as Sandra Bland, Philando Castile, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Alton Sterling and countless others. UNITY aims to ignite activism, educate fans, mobilize the local community, empower players and amplify marginalized voices through key partnerships, social media activations and events. In 2017, in partnership with RISE, the Liberty hosted their first UNITY game, which includes daylong programming such as a, including a town-hall style event, concourse activations, fan giveaways and community outreach.
Asian American athletes condemn racism stemming from COVID-19 pandemic
Pandemic-driven rises in anti-Asian racism are so pronounced that in an American Journal of Public Health article, psychiatrist Justin A. Chen, MD, MPH, and his coauthors describe it as a “secondary contagion” threatening this population. By year’s end, the FBI announces there was a 73-percent increase in hate crimes against Asian Americans in 2020. Early on in the outbreak, Asian American athletes like Natalie Chou, Katelyn Ohashi, Jeremy Lin and Taylor Rapp condemn the rising racism. Said Lin, “For me, I felt like I had to come out and say something. To not feel welcome, or feel safe physically, is just a different level. That’s something that I really want to make sure I took a stance on.”
Athletes join protests, help lead movement for racial equity
Two months after Louisville police kill Breonna Taylor and less than a month after video showing Ahmaud Arbery’s murder is publicly released, multiple athletes at all levels of sport take part in nationwide protests following the murder of George Floyd. Former Texans coach Bill O’Brien and star player J.J. Watt march in Houston, where Floyd was raised and is eventually laid to rest. The Boston Celtics’ Jaylen Brown drives 15 hours to protest in Atlanta, where the Indiana Pacers’ Malcolm Brogdon speaks about his grandfather marching with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. NBA stars Giannis Antetokounmpo, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Trae Young also join protests, and Michael Jordan’s Jordan brand announces a 10-year, $100 million donation to organizations fighting racism. Tennis star Coco Gauff, at 16 years old, speaks at a protest in Florida, and college athletes, including the Clemson football team pictured here, lead protests on campus and march through towns. Olympic fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad marches in Los Angeles, as does Miami Heat assistant Caron Butler. Sidney Crosby, Connor McDavid and more than 100 other NHL players make statements denouncing racial inequality, acknowledging their privilege and pledging to learn and do better. Tyler Seguin protests in Dallas and Zdeno Chara in Boston, while Jonathan Toews meets with activists in Chicago. MLB players such as Aaron Judge, Dexter Fowler, Bryce Harper and C.C. Sabathia speak out through various platforms. Minnesota Timberwolves stars Karl Anthony-Towns and Josh Okogie help lead protests in Minneapolis and in the coming days the Minnesota Timberwolves and Lynx host a RISE Critical Conversation with the organization, city mayor and law enforcement to discuss next steps.
The Plaza at Barclays Center becomes Hub for Social Justice Activism
The public space outside of the Barclays Center, home to the Brooklyn Nets and New York Liberty, has been the scene of a variety of protests and other gatherings starting with the 2020 demonstrations following the murder of George Floyd. “We belong here” and “You belong here” signage at the front and rear entrances, respectively, serves as a constant affirmation and call to action.
WNBA players opt out of season to focus on social justice
On June 18, two-time WNBA champion Renee Montgomery tweeted she would opt out of the WNBA season to focus on social justice issues, including voter rights and helping HBCU Morris Brown College’s $5 million fundraising campaign to regain its accreditation. (Its accreditation application was accepted in November.) Natasha Cloud would opt out a few days later.
WNBA players, WNBPA call for removal of U.S. senator Kelly Loeffler as Atlanta Dream owner
Loeffler, a Republican senator from Georgia, writes a letter to the WNBA commissioner “emphatically opposing” the league’s support of the “Black Lives Matter and “Say Her Name” movement. The Atlanta Dream release their own statement from their players that states “Black lives matter. We are the women of the Atlanta Dream. We are women who support a movement. We are strong and we are fearless. We offer a voice to the voiceless. Our team is united in the Movement for Black Lives. It’s not extreme to demand change after centuries of inequality. This is not a political statement. This is a statement of humanity.” Dream and WNBA players go on to endorse a Loeffler challenger for her Senate seat, Raphael Warnock. Research from the Washington Post indicated the WNBA players’ support for Warnock turned the tides in the Senate race, and Warnock eventually defeats Loeffler in a January runoff to win her seat.
Kings, RISE and When We All Vote relaunch “Rally the Vote”
The Sacramento Kings, in partnership with RISE and When We All Vote, re-launched Rally the Vote, a first-of-its-kind nonpartisan coalition of professional sports franchises focused on getting fans to register to vote and participate in elections. Starting with 20 teams in August, the coalition expanded to more than 50 organizations across the NBA, NFL, MLB, NHL, MLL, MLS, WNBA and NWSL by Election Day.
Athletes strike across sports, demanding justice and accountability after police shoot Jacob Blake
On Aug. 23 in Kenosha, Wisconsin, a white police officer shot Blake, who is Black, seven times in the back as he opened the door of his car, where his kids were sitting in at the time. After a video of the shooting went public and more shootings occur during local protests, the Milwaukee Bucks, who play about 60 miles from Kenosha, refuse to take the court for Game 5 of their first-round playoff series. The team’s statement reads, in part, “Despite the overwhelming plea for change, there has been no action, so our focus today cannot be on basketball.” Their opponent, the Orlando Magic, refused to play as well, forgoing a forfeit despite trailing in the series. The NBA would postpone its remaining games that day through Aug. 28. In the WNBA on Aug. 26, the Washington Mystics’ players wore white shirts with a letter each to spell Blake’s name on the front. On the backs were seven bullet holes. Players across teams would kneel and link arms during the national anthem before walking off the court. Elsewhere, the Detroit Lions canceled their practice on Aug. 25 and instead players discussed measures they could take and publicly advocated for change. On Aug. 27., nine other NFL teams canceled football activities, as did multiple college football teams. In MLB on Aug. 26, the Brewers and Reds game was called as players striked, and two games would later be postponed. The NHL postponed its playoff games on Aug. 27 and 28. MLS canceled five games as players walked off the pitch, and Naomi Osaka announced she was skipping her Aug. 26 tennis semifinal in protest.
New York Liberty Host Fourth Annual UNITY Game
In the wake of the murder of Breonna Taylor in 2020, the team hosted “STAY LOUD: Why We #SayHerName” to educate fans about the origins of the #SayHerName campaign, the many Black women victims who have died due to brutal law enforcement encounters, insight behind the disproportionate media coverage, and the role of sports activism and allyship in the pursuit for justice. Players hosted a virtual panel on August 26th and key activations during their fourth annual UNITY game vs. the Dallas Wings on August 27th. Click here to view more about the campaign.
LeBron James helps recruit more than 40,000 poll workers
As part of James’ More Than a Vote, which he started in June with other Black athletes and entertainers to protect African Americans’ voting rights, James helped recruit more than 40,000 poll workers in a year when many states risked having an insufficient number of workers because of the pandemic. James and his group also helped restore voting rights and pay necessary fines for formerly incarcerated people.
Athletes, teams and open sporting venues help set record U.S. voter turnout
Athletes, leagues and organizations make voting and civic engagement one of its top social justice initiatives, and across sports, voter education and registration efforts take place. RISE holds almost 90 voter education and registration sessions for professional teams and collegiate athletics departments leading up to Election Day, and roughly 70 sports venues open their doors as polling sites throughout the process, part of an effort that began years ago that included the work of RISE board members Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson and former NFL executive Scott Pioli. Said Kathy Boockvar, Pennsylvania’s Secretary of State: “There is no question that seeing the athletes and the leaders in athletics made a huge difference in the enthusiasm.” After the 2020 election, USA Today research indicates nearly 300,000 Americans voted in sports venues that election cycle.
Joe and Clara Tsai Foundation’s $50 Million Social Justice Fund Announces Inaugural Grant Recipients
The Social Justice Fund is driven by a $50 million commitment made by the Joe and Clara Tsai Foundation to work toward racial justice and economic mobility in Brooklyn over the coming 10 years. The Fund seeks to address systemic injustice and the root causes behind racial gaps in education, health and wealth by working on social justice initiatives and making community investments in Brooklyn’s BIPOC – especially Black – community.
Renee Montgomery becomes first former WNBA player to become a part owner and executive of a WNBA franchise
As a member of the Atlanta Dream, Montgomery opts out of the WNBA season in June 2020 to focus on issues of social justice, voter suppression and education, but later in the year starts envisioning a future as a co-owner in the league. That moment comes in early 2021 with her own team, when Kelly Loeffler sells the Dream to an ownership group that includes Montgomery. Dream players and stars from across the WNBA wanted Loeffler removed after she wrote a letter criticizing the league and the Black Lives Matter movement, and Montgomery would write an ensuing letter to Loeffler that would go unanswered. Ultimately, Loeffler decides to sell the team and now Montgomery is part owner, the first former WNBA player to earn that title.
Athletes rally to stop Asian hate after Atlanta shootings
On March 16, a white gunman commits a series of mass shootings at three Atlanta-area spas and massage parlors, killing eight people, six of whom were Asian women. The shooting reflects a long history of racism and sexism toward Asians and specifically Asian women, as well as reflecting the rapid rise in violent hate crimes rooted in racism from the COVID-19 pandemic. The day following the shooting, there’s an outpouring of support from athletes and teams across the country. LeBron James, Chiney Ogwumike, the Portland Trailblazers, Jeremy Lin, Steve Kerr, Trae Young were among the many within the NBA to speak out against the shooting and rise in racism. Atlanta Falcons kicker Younghoe Koo, a South Korean American, writes on his social media: “As an Asian American, I have heard the jokes and name calling. I often dealt with it by ignoring what was said and minding my own business. I don’t have all the answers, but I realize now more than ever that this is an issue that needs to be addressed and that ignoring it won’t help us do that. I know this one post won’t solve the problem, but I hope to help raise awareness on hate crimes against all. #stophate”
NBA investment in HBCUs
The NBA and NBA Foundation announce the creation of the NBA HBCU Fellowship Program, an initiative designed to create greater opportunity for undergraduate and graduate students from Historically Black College and Universities (HCBU). The paid fellowship program with the NBA, WNBA and teams provides career development around the business and operations of the game. In February at the 2022 NBA All-Star Game in Cleveland, there will also be the first-ever NBA HBCU Classic in Cleveland between the Howard University and Morgan State University men’s basketball teams. Additionally, than $1 million will be contributed in support to the HBCU community through the Thurgood Marshall College Fund (TMCF), UNCF (United Negro College Fund) and academic institutions, and HBCUs will be showcased during All-Star Weekend through unique content, storytelling and special performances.