Civic Engagement

NBA on MLK Day: Why do Atlanta and Memphis host games on the national holiday?

MLK Day is a national holiday, celebrated as the birth anniversary of Civil Rportights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on the third Monday of January every year.

The league has been celebrating MLK Day with basketball games ever since it was first observed in 1986, and this year will be no different.

More often than not, the slate of games on MLK Day each year features games in Memphis and Atlanta. Here's why:

Why Memphis and Atlanta host NBA games on MLK Day?


Martin Lurther King Jr. was born in Atlanta, Georgia. He also grew up there, attending Booker T. Washington High School and Morehouse College. Given that connection, MLK Day is of tremendous importance to Atlanta and the Hawks franchise.

Since 1994, the organization has hosted games on MLK Day, with few exceptions - in 1998 when the franchise split time between Georgia Dome and Alexander Memorial Coliseum, in 1999 when no games were played until February and 2017.


Every year since 2003, the Grizzlies, who moved from Vancouver, British Columbia in 2001, have hosted a game on MLK Day.

In 1968, the civil-rights leader, who was in Memphis to support a strike by sanitation workers, was assassinated while standing on the balcony at the Lorraine Motel. That site is now home of the National Civil Rights Museum, which is not far from the Grizzlies' home arena, FedEx Forum.

In the lead-up to the MLK Day game in Memphis, the Grizzlies organization, like most franchises, along with the NBA hold multiple events including awards, panel discussions, and visits to the National Civil Rights Museum.

In 2019, the Grizzlies hosted a Sports Legacy Award presentation where they honored former NBA player Chris Bosh, Wayne Embry, the NBA's first African-American general manager, WNBA star Candace Parker and Hall of Famer Bill Walton.

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