Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

NBA Cloth Talk: The significance behind the Atlanta Hawks and Memphis Grizzlies paying tribute to Martin Luther King Jr.

MLK Unis

Welcome to Cloth Talk! An ode to the phrase coined by DJ Khaled, NBA.com's Gilbert McGregor and Kyle Irving delve into all things style in the NBA. From uniform reveals to sneaker choices and everything in between, the two experts give their takes and provide clarity on concepts that are impossible to ignore.

If you missed the first editions, catch up on the teams with new uniforms, a rundown of the Classic Edition uniforms that will be worn and our rankings of the league's best "City Edition" uniforms this season.

Today, we highlight the Atlanta Hawks MLK City Edition uniforms and court, which will debut for the first time on Martin Luther King Day, as well as why the Memphis Grizzlies always play at home on MLK Day.

Gilbert McGregor (@GMcGregor21): Man, it's crazy to think we're almost a month into the season and this is our fourth edition of Cloth Talk. Last time we chatted about this year's City Edition uniforms, you and I both had nothing but great things to say about the Atlanta Hawks' MLK uniforms.

Now that Martin Luther King Day is almost here and we get to see the uniforms in action for the first time, I feel like it's only right we talk about them at greater length.

Kyle Irving (@KyleIrv_): Have to. Before we even get going on the unique little things that make the uniform (and MLK edition court the Hawks are playing on) so special, I have to reiterate how clean the black, white and gold are.

A colour combination that never, ever fails.

McGregor: Right, I really appreciate the fact that there are layers to it. The gold slightly deviates away from Atlanta's typical colour scheme but we associate gold with royalty and what better way to pay homage to a King than by doing that? I'm often a big believer that simplicity rules, and the simplicity of this uniform is one of the many reasons that it is one of my favourites.

That they replaced "Atlanta" with MLK makes these uniforms all about him. I'm not sure there's a native any city could be more proud to call its own.

And, as you kind of alluded to already, there are some more unique little things that we can get into.

Irving: Real quick, if you haven't already checked out the Hawks splash page for their new City Edition uniforms, court and tribute to Martin Luther King Jr., you should. It provides more detail than you could ever imagine, but Gil and I are going to give you some highlights of it right now.

To me, the coolest tribute on the uniforms is the "Freedom Stars" on the side of the shorts.

There are 22 stars to account for 22 of the 29 times Dr. King was jailed for fighting for justice and equality.

They also represent the student freedom fighters who engaged in nightly sit-ins all over the South, to which MLK said, "Only when it is dark enough can you see the stars."

If you're just watching the Hawks play in their new uniforms on MLK day, you'd see stars on the shorts and think nothing of it. To read that made me appreciate the detail that much more.

McGregor: Weaving his words into the incorporation of the stars is one of the many, many ways this is more than just a uniform. To think that Dr. King was jailed that many times for fighting for the betterment of society speaks to the sacrifices made by him and the thousands (!) of freedom fighters who sacrificed so much in order for our nation to become a better place.

That speaks specifically to me, as I had the honour of attending the same church in Charlotte as one of the "Greensboro Four" that took part in a sit-in at the Woolworth's Lunch Counter in Greensboro, NC, which actually brings me to another detail that I've touched on before but want to get into a bit more - the court.

My grandfather was born a little over a decade before Dr. King but was also a preacher in the South during the height of the Civil Rights Movement. When I look at the court and the stained glass motif of the Hawks' logo, I can't think of a better way to honour a minister like King. So often during the Movement, churches were a place in which King spoke to the people, in a location that often served as a place for strategizing and unity.

Seeing that stained glass Hawks logo makes me think of those windows that lined the sanctuaries in which King spoke, perfectly tying together how his impactful words are represented on the uniform.

Irving: Any time there's a personal experience tied in, through any degree of separation, it always makes the tributes within these uniforms or courts mean that much more.

And that's whether it's something simple like we referred to in the "Trade" and "Tryon" references on the Charlotte Hornets' City Edition court in our previous Cloth Talk or something much deeper and more powerful like you just said, tying your grandfather to the Civil Rights Movement being honoured here.

While there are several odes paid to the church Dr. King spoke at throughout the uniform - like the crest and crown logo on the side of the shorts inside a silhouette of the stained glass window - the actual stained glass logo at centre court is a bold look and an awesome tribute.

McGregor: Absolutely, and I think what ties it all together is the "Earn These Letters" call to action that we've seen throughout the rollout of these uniforms. It doesn't end with the uniforms, it only begins there. And I love that.

It's for his hometown.

Irving: Couldn't be a more perfect tribute.

By the way, the Hawks aren't the only team that plays a home game on MLK Day every year. We can't forget about the Memphis Grizzlies, too.

McGregor: You stole the thought out of my brain.

In fact, the Grizzlies were actually the first team to honour King with uniforms. Memphis, the home of the National Civil Rights Museum, fittingly hosts a game on MLK Day each year as well. And back in 2017, they had uniforms inspired by the Sanitation Workers Strike of 1968.

Irving: You said you like simplistic uniforms and from a purely aesthetic point of view, it doesn't get more simple than crisp white and black.

McGregor: Then the way in which the uniform was designed after the picket signs is a very iconic representation of the Movement and again, a great way to make it much much more than just a uniform. The "I Am A Man" says so much more than just those four words and was actually the chosen Social Justice Message of former Grizzlies guard Mike Conley at the NBA Restart, to bring it all full circle.

Irving: It's a tribute to the Sanitation Workers Strike, but again, also Dr. King, who went to Memphis to march alongside those protestors and join their efforts to raise awareness before he was later assassinated on that very same trip.

With the Grizzlies and Hawks playing at home every year on MLK's holiday, it's an ode to two significant places of King's storyline and I'm sure there's an added honour those NBA players feel when they put on their jerseys and lace up their shoes for that special game on that special day.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA or its clubs.

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