In the United States, the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. are celebrated on Martin Luther King Day, which always falls on the third Monday in January. The holiday, which is a celebration of Dr. King’s Jan. 15 birthday, was first observed in 1986.
While it would be another 14 years before the holiday was observed in all 50 states, the NBA began its holiday celebrations in 1986. MLK Day has been a feature day on the league’s calendar with marquee games and a focus on Dr. King’s message and service to the community.
38 years later, MLK Day is still a marquee date on the NBA calendar, with 11 games scheduled to take place on the holiday in 2024. Among the extensive slate are nationally televised games played at Atlanta’s State Farm Arena and the FedExForum in Memphis, Tenn., an annual feature of the holiday.
Why do the Hawks and Grizzlies always host home games on MLK Day? Here is how Atlanta and Memphis are intertwined with Dr. King’s life, legacy and impact on the Civil Rights Movement.
Which NBA teams always play on Martin Luther King Jr. holiday?
With the exception of 1998 and 2017, the Hawks have hosted an MLK Day game every season since 1994. Atlanta is also the site of the first-ever MLK Day game on Jan. 20, 1986.
2024 marks the 25th consecutive year that the Hawks will play on MLK Day and the 32nd time overall. Only the Knicks, Lakers and 76ers have played on the holiday more than the Hawks
The reason why the Hawks almost always host games on the holiday is simple: Dr. King was born on Jan. 15, 1929, in Atlanta. And while he would go on to make his impact felt worldwide, King is rooted in Atlanta, where he spent his formative years and enrolled at Morehouse College at the age of 15.
King’s legacy has always been intertwined with the Hawks, but the connection was made even stronger during the 2020-21 season when the franchise introduced special “City Edition” uniforms featuring King’s initials. In 2022, the Hawks unveiled an MLK wall at State Farm Arena.
Except for 2002 and 2017, the Grizzlies have hosted an MLK Day game every season since moving to Memphis ahead of the 2001-02 season. Since relocating, the Grizzlies have played on MLK Day 22 times. 2024 will mark the seventh straight year that the Grizzlies will play on the holiday.
As for why games are played in Memphis, Dr. King stood at the forefront of the workers taking part in the Memphis Sanitation Workers Strike in 1968. It was in Memphis that King would deliver his “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” address, the final speech he would deliver.
King was assassinated on April 4, 1968, at Memphis’ Lorraine Motel, which is now the site of the National Civil Rights Museum.
During the 2017-18 season, the Grizzlies wore uniforms inspired by the Sanitation Strike, to commemorate the 50th anniversary. On the uniforms, “Memphis” was stylized like the protesters’ “I Am A Man” signs.
Our MLK50 City Edition uniform is inspired by the 1968 Memphis Sanitation Workers Strike ‘I Am A Man’ slogans & reflects on the events, circumstance & losses surrounding the movement, including the 50th Anniversary of the assassination of MLK
— Memphis Grizzlies (@memgrizz) December 22, 2017
NBA MLK Day schedule 2024
|Rockets at 76ers
|Pelicans at Mavericks
|Magic at Knicks
|Pistons at Wizards
|Spurs at Hawks
|Warriors at Grizzlies
|Bulls at Cavaliers
|Heat at Nets
|Celtics at Raptors
|Pacers at Jazz
|Thunder at Lakers
NBA teams MLK Day appearances
Here are the number of appearances for all NBA teams on the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, including the games played in 2024:
|MLK Day games
Source : ESPN.com