The Grizzlies migrated to the Bluff City 12 years ago, intertwining the franchise's history with the rich southern roots of Memphis. Each year since, the Grizzlies have hosted Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration Day at the FedExForum, honoring icons for their contributions to civil and human rights.
On Monday (Jan. 20), three more individuals were honored during an afternoon wrapped around the Grizzlies confrontation with the New Orleans Pelicans.
The Grizzlies hosted the 2014 event along with the National Civil Rights Museum, the City of Memphis and Shelby County. NBA Hall of Famer Bernard King and former NBA star JoJo White were presented with Ninth Annual National Civil Rights Sports Legacy Awards, courtesy of FedEx. Former NBA stalwart Dikembe Mutombo, a 2007 honoree who could not attend that year's presentation because of bad weather and a canceled, also was on hand to receive his tribute.
The day began with the Martin Luther King Jr. Day High School Classic, presented by C-Spire, with Whitehaven High School and Ensworth High School from Nashville battling on the FedExForum court.
King, Mutombo and White also joined the Grizzlies' television play-by-play analyst Pete Pranica for the annual Sports Legacy Symposium, presented by the Hyde Family Foundation. The three shared their stories and experiences dealing with racism and diversity in the NBA. The free symposium was held in the Coventry Health Care Practice Facility.
King said he was nine years old and a wedding reception when Dr. King was killed.
"My first memories would be certainly the 'I Have a Dream Speech' when I was six years old," King recalled. "The impact he's had on this nation as a whole has inspired my life. I always believed through the teachings of my parents that anything was possible. That's the foundation that was laid for me.
"But then when you look at the larger picture in terms of the larger world around you, the larger community around you, the larger culture around you and all that represents you, you realize that there are tremendous challenges you're going to face. I faced those challenges..."
One of the most explosive scorers in his era, King poured in more than 19,000 points during his 14-year career and was a four-time NBA All-Star, as well as a two-time All-NBA first team member during his career.
White played for 12 seasons in the NBA, including a 10-year stint with the Boston Celtics in which he was a large part of two NBA Championship teams, and was named the NBA Finals Most Valuable Player in 1976. He was named to the NBA All-Star team in seven consecutive seasons (1971-1977).
One of the greatest post defenders in the history of the NBA, Mutombo sustained an 18-year NBA career before retiring in 2009. He was an eight-time All-Star, as well as a four-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year and a three-time NBA All-Defensive First Team member. A well-known humanitarian, Mutombo started the Dikembe Mutombo Foundation to improve living conditions in his native Democratic Republic of Congo in 1997.
"Dr. King continued to remind all of us the things that we need to do to be free," Mutombo said, calling his award "a great honor. I'm very happy and very pleased just for the fact that I've been recognized and given a chance to receive the Dr. Martin Luther King award here in Memphis where he was killed."
Following the symposium, the National Civil Rights Museum Sports Legacy Award Ceremony began right before game tipoff. Country music legend Charley Pride sang the National Anthem and later performed during halftime.