Civic Engagement

HBCU NBA Players: Historically Black colleges and universities have produced some of the game's most iconic figures

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Ben Wallace, Willis Reed and Earl Monroe (NBAE/Getty Images)

NBA All-Star 2021, a one-day all-encompassing event, is set for Sunday, Mar. 7.

As part of this year's All-Star events, the league and its players' association announced that they will commit over $2.5 million in funds and resources toward Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and support and awareness around equity and access to COVID-19 care, relief and vaccines.

But what exactly makes a school an HBCU?

By definition, an HBCU is "any historically black college or university that was established prior to 1964, whose principal mission was, and is, the education of Black Americans, and that is accredited by a nationally recognized accrediting agency or association determined by the Secretary [of Education] to be a reliable authority as to the quality of training offered or is, according to such an agency or association, making reasonable progress toward accreditation."

Prior to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, most institutions of higher education either limited their Black enrollment or barred the enrollment of Black students altogether.

Over the years, HBCUs have produced some of the world's most influential figures, including civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (Morehouse College), United States Vice President Kamala Haris (Howard University), media icon Oprah Winfrey (Tennessee State University) and filmmaker Spike Lee (Morehouse College).

Portland Trail Blazers forward Robert Covington (Tennessee State University) is currently the only active HBCU alum in the NBA but Phoenix Suns All-Star guard Chris Paul has enrolled in classes at Winston-Salem State University and is among a number of current players that have used their platform to bring awareness to the importance of HBCUs.

MORE: Covington makes historic pledge to alma mater | Paul leads march to voting site at WSSU

As explained by NBPA Executive Director Michele Roberts, "HBCUs provided premium education to our communities at a time when access to higher learning was denied to us. They were there - and have remained there - for us. We now stand with them."

While there is just one active HBCU alum in the NBA, some of the league's all-time greats honed their skills at HBCU programs. Here are some of the most notable names, from earliest to most recent…

Sam Jones, North Carolina Central University

Born in 1933 in Wilmington, NC, Jones scored 1,745 points during his four-year career at NCCU (then North Carolina College).

Selected with the No. 8 overall pick by the Boston Celtics in 1957, Jones won 10 NBA titles during his 12-year career. In NBA history, only Jones' teammate, Bill Russell, is a more decorated champion with 11 championships.

In 1969, Jones became the first African-American named into the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame. He was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1984 and was honoured as one of the NBA's 50 Greatest Players during the 1996-97 season.

Zelmo Beaty, Prairie View A&M University

After leading Prairie View to a National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) national title in 1962, Beaty was taken third overall by the St. Louis Hawks in the 1962 NBA Draft.

Beaty spent 12 years as a pro - eight in the NBA and four with the ABA's Utah Stars. Over the course of his eight-year NBA career, Beaty averaged 16.0 points and 10.4 rebounds, earning All-Star selections in 1966 and 1968. He led the Stars to the 1971 ABA title, earning MVP honours in the process.

He was posthumously inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2016.

Willis Reed, Grambling State University

Reed, a Louisiana native, scored over 2,000 points during his four-year career at Grambling, leading the Tigers to an NAIA title in 1961.

Selected with the eighth overall pick by the New York Knicks in 1964, Reed spent the entirety of his 10-year career in New York, winning NBA titles in 1970 and 1973. Reed, whose No. 19 hangs in the Madison Square Garden rafters, has one of the most iconic moments in NBA history as he played through injury in Game 7 of the 1970 Finals.

Reed was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame in 1982 and was named as one of the NBA's 50 Greatest Players in 1997.

Bob Love, Southern University

An alumnus of Southern University in Baton Rouge, LA, Love was selected with the 33rd overall pick of the 1965 NBA Draft by the Cincinnati Royals but was cut before the season started.

After beginning his career in 1966 with Cincinnati, Love came into his own after becoming a member of the Chicago Bulls in 1968. Over nine seasons with the Bulls, Love averaged 21.3 points and 6.8 rebounds, earning three All-Star selections, three All-Defensive Second Team selections and two All-NBA Second Team selections.

Love's No. 10 is one of just four numbers retired by the Bulls franchise.

Earl Monroe, Winston-Salem State University

The Philadelphia native made a name for himself under Hall of Fame coach Clarence "Big House" Gaines at WSSU from 1963-67.

By averaging 41.5 (!) points per game during his senior season (with no 3-point line), Monroe led the Rams to the 1967 NCAA Division II title. The Baltimore Bullets (now Washington Wizards) selected Monroe with the No. 2 overall pick in the 1967 NBA Draft and he was named 1968 Rookie of the Year.

Monroe was traded to the New York Knicks in 1971 and was a member of the 1973 title team alongside Reed. Monroe retired in 1980 as a four-time All-Star and a one-time All-NBA First Teamer. His No. 10 is retired by the Wizards and the Knicks retired his No. 15.

In 1990, Monroe was enshrined in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of fame and in 1997, he was named as one of the NBA's 50 Greatest Players.

Bob Dandridge, Norfolk State University

After four years at Norfolk State, Dandridge was taken with the 45th overall pick by the Milwaukee Bucks in 1969.

In his second season, Dandridge averaged 18.4 points and 8.0 rebounds per game, helping Milwaukee win its first-ever title alongside superstars Oscar Robertson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Dandridge would win another title as a member of the Washington Bullets in 1978 and was the team's scoring leader in the Finals.

Over 12 seasons, Dandridge earned four All-Star nods, one All-NBA selection and an All-Defensive Team selection. His No. 10 has been retired by the Milwaukee Bucks.

Charles Oakley, Virginia Union University

An Ohio native, Oakley spent four seasons at Virginia Union, leading the Panthers to a 31-1 record in his senior season, earning NCAA DII Player of the Year honours in the process.

Oakley was selected with the No. 9 overall pick by the Chicago Bulls in 1985, beginning an NBA career that concluded in 2004. Over 19 seasons, Oakley earned All-Star honours and All-Defensive First Team honours for a Knicks team that represented the Eastern Conference in the 1994 NBA Finals.

He retired with career averages of 9.7 points and 9.5 rebounds over 1,282 career games.

Anthony Mason, Tennessee State University

While Mason was drafted in 1988 (Round 3, 53rd overall), it took several years for him to stick in the NBA as he finally found his role with the Knicks in 1991.

From there, Mason proved to be a player that was ahead of his time as a skilled point forward that brought physicality on both ends of the floor. He was named Sixth Man of the Year in 1995, All-Defensive Second Team and All-NBA Third Team in 1997 and an All-Star in 2001.

Mason is still the all-time leader for triple-doubles in Charlotte Hornets franchise history with seven.

Avery Johnson, Southern University

The New Orleans native landed at Southern for the final two years of his college career, where he led the NCAA Division I with a still-standing record of 13.3 assists per game in his senior season.

Despite his standing as the assists king, Johnson went undrafted in 1988 and was a journeyman early on, playing with five different teams (including the San Antonio Spurs) from 1988 to 1994 before landing with the Spurs full-time in 1994.

Johnson is most remembered for his time with the Spurs, where he hit the go-ahead jumper in the title-clinching Game 5 of the 1999 NBA Finals. After retiring in 2004, Johnson spent several seasons as an NBA head coach, earning Coach of the Year honours after leading the Dallas Mavericks to the league's best record in 2006.

Ben Wallace, Virginia Union University

Guided by the mentorship of Oakley, Wallace landed at Virginia Union for the final two years of his college career after beginning at the junior college level.

After going undrafted in 1996, Wallace started his career in Washington, where he spent the first three seasons of his career with the Bullets/Wizards before a trade sent him to the Orlando Magic in 1999 and eventually over to the Detroit Pistons in 2000.

In Detroit, Wallace became historically dominant on the defensive end, winning Defensive Player of the Year a record four times along with a number of other accolades that include five All-Defensive First Team selections, five All-NBA selections, four All-Star selections, two rebound titles and one blocks title - all while being listed at 6-foot-9.

Wallace and the Pistons captured the 2004 NBA title and he saw his No. 3 jersey raised to the rafters in 2016.

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