MLK Day has special meaning for Thunder

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By Michael Kinney

OKLAHOMA CITY – Playing basketball on Martin Luther King Day has become a thing. Just like the NBA has taken over Christmas, it now has turned MLK into a celebration around the entire league.

The NBA had a full schedule of games on Monday. That included the Oklahoma City Thunder who took on the Sacramento Kings at Chesapeake Energy Arena.

While the Thunder were looking for payback against a Kings squad that beat them earlier in the season, the day meant much more to the players than just a regular season game in January.

“I think it’s a privilege to play on that day,” Thunder guard Raymond Felton said. “To be able to play on such a special day, you definitely try and get a chance to get a win on that day. Especially versus a team we owe a lot to.”

For Thunder forward Paul George, being able to play on MLK Day is the least they can do for a man who he believes changed the world.

“It’s special. What Martin Luther King did was for us, for generations to come, the reason why we can play this game, and the reason we are all grateful as Americans, as human beings, as African Americans, we’re grateful for his contributions to our history,” George said. “So, it’s great that we can honor him on this day with basketball on his day. We’re grateful.”

Several NBA players had expressed the sentiment that celebrating King this year is more important than ever because of the divisive attitudes they believe emanating from President Donald Trump and the White House. George was asked if that made this day more special this year.

“I think MLK is important any year,” George said. “It has no greater value because of who’s in office or who’s not in office. What he’s done is significant any year. We’ve got to honor that.”

However, Oklahoma City coach Billy Donovan does believe that the attitudes King represented are those that are needed in the country today. And there is no better way to highlight them than through basketball.

“I think that sports, in a lot of ways, really, breaks down a lot of social divides,” Donovan said. “You get a group of guys working together and I think sports is a unifier. I think that’s what Dr. Martin Luther King was. He was a unifier. He was a leader. Obviously, it’s a great opportunity for us as an organization to play on this day.”

One of the reason’s having the NBA play on MLK Day is important is that it gives fans and players a chance to learn about King and his accomplishments. With quotes and videos being posted on every social media platform, people can’t help but get educated on the American icon who was assassinated in 1968.

“It means a lot. It means everything,” Felton said. “Just the whole history of the things that he did for our nation. It changed everything. It gave a lot of people hope. It gave kids around the world hope. It gave me hope. Just that march, his speeches, I think it gave the whole world a different outlook on life. The things that they can do and the abilities in themselves.”

This season the Thunder have seemingly played on every single holiday. But playing on MLK Day seems to mean more to them.

“It’s always special to play on holidays, and it’s definitely special to play on MLK Day. Everybody is not fortunate to play on those days,” Raymond Felton said. “We’ve been blessed this year to play on pretty much every holiday. It’s been fun. I’ve really enjoyed this year, really enjoyed this team.”

Michael Kinney is a Freelance Content Writer with

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