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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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”
Juneteenth recognized as federal holiday
Following the murder of George Floyd in May 2020, leagues, teams and athletes across professional sports widley recognize and celebrate Juneteenth — the commemoration of the end of slavery in the United States. Leagues such as the NBA and NFL and teams such as the NHL’s San Jose Sharks and MLS’ Real Salt Lake leverage their platforms to engage in conversations on racism and social justice and provide resources to fans on how they can further their education around issues of race and support the Black community. Momentum builds and one year later, in June 2021, President Joe Biden signs a bill to recognize Juneteenth as a federal holiday.
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.