NBA All-Star Weekend Was a Love Letter to HBCUs

Image for article titled NBA All-Star Weekend Was a Love Letter to HBCUs
Image: NBA

Where shall we begin?

Yes, Team LeBron put the beats on Team Durant with a 170-150 victory during the 2021 NBA All-Star Game, but anyone who watched Sunday’s festivities knows the real winners were the HBCUs that the league put at the forefront.


Prior to NBA All-Star Weekend, the NBA and National Basketball Players Association announced that they’d be dedicating the 2021 NBA All-Star Game to elevating HBCUs and supporting the communities of color that have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19. And anyone expecting the NBA to fall short in doing so on Sunday was in for a rude awakening.

Let’s begin with the court design itself, which was created in collaboration with HBCU alumni from various schools, and incorporated images of the academics, music and campus life that both HBCU graduates and attendees hold dear. The arena also featured gorgeous artwork from seven artists who all currently attend prestigious institutions such as Howard University, Albany State University and Florida A&M University.

There were also the virtual fans, comprised of both essential workers and HBCU students, courtesy of Anheuser-Busch and the Anheuser-Busch Foundation—who have contributed more than $5 million to the United Negro College Fund in support of both scholarships and educational programs for HBCU students.

Shit, even the referees were all HBCU graduates.


And as players were interviewed throughout the night—yup, HBCU students conducted some of those interviews, too—you might’ve noticed those dope-ass, Afrocentric headphones they all had on. They sure as hell looked wayyyyyyy better than mine and with good reason: They were designed by Elijah Rutland, a student at Florida A&M University and participant in the Beats by Dre “Beats Black Creator” program. That wasn’t the only thing that had NBA players looking fresh though, as Jordan Brand outfitted every All-Star uniform with jersey patches celebrating the Thurgood Marshall College Fund and UNCF.

HBCUs were a part of the performance package, too. Prior to tip-off, the Clark Atlanta University Philharmonic Society Choir killed their rendition of “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” and during the player intros, the marching bands from Grambling State and Florida A&M set shit off and held it down for their respective campuses.


Oh, and “The Star-Spangled Banner”? That was sung by Gladys Knight, who graduated from one of the oldest HBCUs in the country, Shaw University.


As for the All-Star Game itself, the NBA generated $3 million in donations for HBCUs with Team LeBron repping The Thurgood Marshall College Fund and Team Durant holding it down for the UNCF. Team LeBron’s win raised $1.25 for the TMCF, while Team Durant raised $500,000 for the UNCF.


For those wondering about the rest of the night, Pacers forward Domantas Sabonis somehow emerged victorious during the Skills Challenge (Luka, what the hell happened?), Trail Blazers guard Anfernee Simons won a lackluster Slam Dunk Contest, and Steph Curry nearly set the nets on fire to collect his second 3-Point Contest win.


But as NBA Commissioner Adam Silver so eloquently stated, HBCUs were the real MVP of the evening.

“It was part of the reason why we’re here in Atlanta,” he said. “This was an opportunity to focus on the HBCUs.”


And it was a beautiful sight to see.


Non Sleeping Giant

Gotta admit: The NBA is doing a lot of things right by their black players and fans. It was a pretty shaky after the Blake shooting boycott, but this was an incredible display of unapologetic blackness. I got a little teary eyed when Lift Every Voice and Sing came on.

Oh and Gladys, Gladys, Gladys... whew!