Monday, January 17, 2022

Martin Luther King Day Basketball

The National Basketball Association first started playing matinee games on Martin Luther King Day in 1986.

The first game to feature NBA players in honor of Dr. King came much earlier, back in 1968, the year in which he was assassinated. In fact, on the day after the assassination, which happened on April 4 of that year, Oscar Robertson began to organize a special exhibition game that would be played outdoors in New York City on Aug. 15.

According to an AP story, that game included players like Wilt Chamberlain, Lenny Wilkens, Dave Bing, Dave DeBusschere, Willis Reed and Walt Bellamy. That game raised $90,000 in support of Dr. King's Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

If you're too young to know who Oscar Robertson is, the concept of the "triple-double" originated with him. The Big O, as he was known when he played, was the first player ever to average a triple-double for a full season (he did it in 1970-71 with the Milwaukee Bucks), and to date only Russell Westbrook has matched the accomplishment.

Robertson won an Olympic gold medal in 1960 and an NBA title with the Bucks in 1970-71. He led the nation in scoring all three of his varsity seasons at the University of Cincinnati, where he averaged 33.8 points per game, which is third all-time behind Pete Maravich (44.2 per game at LSU, yes, that's not a typo) and Austin Carr (34.6 at Notre Dame).

Bill Bradley, by the way, ranks 16th at 30.2, just behind Larry Bird.

The bottom line is that if you make a list of the 15 best basketball players ever and didn't include Oscar Robertson, then your list has no credibility. 

It's definitely worth reading that AP story for more of an understanding of what Dr. King meant to the players of his time. And to get an understanding of what race relations were like in the 1950s and 1960s. And, in honor of the day, it's worth reading more about who Dr. King was and the impact he had on America.

The NBA will have 12 games today, on Martin Luther King Day. It's become a January staple, including home games in Atlanta (where King lived) and Memphis (where he was killed).

This year, the Ivy League will be debuting its own MLK Day tradition, with a full schedule of men's and women's games. Each team will be playing its former travel partner, which means that there will be two matchups between Harvard and Dartmouth, Yale and Brown, Cornell and Columbia and, of course, Princeton and Penn.

The women's game between the Tigers and Quakers tips at 2 at the Palestra. The men's game is at 4 at Jadwin. Both games are on ESPN+.

The Princeton and Penn men and women all come into the game having won on Saturday. 

The Princeton and Penn women combined to win by a total of 57 points, taking down Dartmouth and Brown on the road. Ivy League women's basketball has belonged to Princeton and Penn the last 12 year, as Princeton has won eight championships and Penn has won four (they shared one), while nobody else has won any.

They're both unbeaten in the league so far this year, though it is early. They're joined this year by another team that is currently unbeaten, Columbia.

Princeton and Penn are built around their defenses, and they rank 1-2 in the league in points allowed per game (Princeton at 54.3, Penn at 56.7).

Penn's men won 78-68 over Dartmouth Saturday, while the Princeton men won a tight battle against Brown 76-74. Tosan Evbuomwan continued to be simply dominant, with 21 points and eight assists against the Bears, and he now leads the league in assists by a startling 2.2 per game over the next-best total.

Princeton's men are 3-0 in the Ivy League race, and Penn comes into the game at 3-1. These two have been by far the most successful teams in the history of the Ivy League, and their rivalry has been as good as it has gotten between any two teams in any sport in league history. 

Every time they play is special. 

And that's your Martin Luther King Day Princeton basketball preview. It's a day with a special history in the sport, and it's great to see that the Ivy League is now involved.

1 comment:

George Clark said...

Thanks for the interesting history lesson, TB. Our League is standing up for the memory of Dr. King in a most worthwhile way.
I am old enough to remember The Big O. In the 1960's some NBA teams scheduled regular season games once or twice a year away from home. One year the 76'ers played the Cincinnati Royals in Scranton, at the Catholic Youth Center, a 5500 seat arena. Two of my friends and I were among the sold out throng, probably a bigger crowd than the Sixers drew in Philadelphia. My friends and I bet a hot dog and a coke on the high scorer among Robertson, Jack Twyman and Hal Greer. I had first pick and jumped on The Big O. When he canned 36 I was a runaway winner. Greer had 8. The next night the same teams played in Philadelphia. Greer had 52.