The NBA’s commitment to Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) was on display last season during All-Star weekend in Atlanta, and it’ll only intensify over this coming season, highlighted by more events in Cleveland during the flagship weekend.
The inaugural NBA HBCU Classic will feature a matchup between Howard University and Morgan State University on Feb. 19, 2022 at the Wolstein Center in Cleveland. It will be broadcast live.
Last year’s All-Star weekend had a distinct HBCU feel, with the design of the floor being curated by HBCU students, and the NBA Foundation — formed between the league and its players over the past year — wanted to highlight traditionally underfunded HBCUs and amplify its current and future students.
HBCU stories were told featuring the faces and voices of those schools, and it was greeted with applause from the league and its players — especially those who initially groaned about having an All-Star weekend in Atlanta in the middle of the pandemic seemed to appreciate the representation and cause.
“As an association, the NBA should be commended for the foresight and willingness to address important issues surrounding diversity, equity and inclusion,” said Morgan State University Vice President and Director of Intercollegiate Athletics Dr. Ed Scott in a statement. “The creation of the NBA All-Star HBCU Classic is a clear demonstration of the NBA’s commitment to promoting HBCUs and showcasing the talented young men and women on our campuses.”
Over $3 million was raised during All-Star weekend last season with the Thurgood Marshall Scholarship Fund (TMCF) and United Negro College Fund as its beneficiaries. Late NBA commissioner David Stern served as a founding member of the TMCF Board of Directors for more than 30 years.
“We see this as an opportunity to continue that commitment to supporting HBCUs by now opening up these opportunities for Black youth,” NBA deputy commissioner Mark Tatum told Yahoo Sports.
Tatum revealed a new program will be launched in 2022 where the NBA, WNBA and its teams will be offering paid fellowships for graduate and undergraduate HBCU students. The fellowship can focus from finance and marketing to basketball operations and referee operations.
“You and I both know like the first opportunity in sports is oftentimes the hardest one to get,” Tatum said. “It took me years before I could get my first job in sports, and so we want to create this ramp, and this pathway for HBCU students to get paid.”
Applications for the program will open on careers.NBA.com in the coming months, and the NBA will use various arms to tour college campuses to present the options available. The NBA 2K League will introduce students to careers in the growing space of esports, along with giving HBCU coaches, trainers and players the opportunities to participate in the G League combine and NBA pre-draft combine.
Similar to its hopes on the hiring of Black coaches this past cycle — a successful one, it should be noted with the likes of Wes Unseld Jr. and Jamahl Mosley getting their first opportunities — the NBA focuses on creating the pipeline for more Black representation at every level of operations.
HBCU alumni and Black entrepreneurs will partner with the league as part of the NBA’s commitment to onboarding more minority-owned businesses as league licensees. And the NBA will air special alternate game telecasts this season featuring interactive enhancements on League Pass and will work with HBCUs to provide special experiences around those select games.
“When we announced the foundation, our mission was always one of the most powerful ways to address the racial inequality in our country was to create more jobs, more high-paying jobs or more economic opportunity in the Black community,” Tatum said.
Tatum is the highest-ranking Black man in the NBA and has taken a personal approach to this endeavor, along with many of the NBA’s HBCU alums — Hall of Famers Ben Wallace and Bob Dandridge and Robert Covington (Portland Trail Blazers), among others, voicing their opinions
Upon its creation, the NBA Foundation announced a $300 million commitment over the next 10 years to support youths in Black communities and Black-owned businesses.
“I've been busy partnering with those institutions that we've awarded more than 40 grants totaling $11 [million] of the $300 [million],” Tatum said. “And next year, we're going to give away even more money in terms of grants to organizations that are doing this work.”
Tatum said he heard from league and team employees after All-Star weekend and the general tone of excitement was also tinged with the motivation to do more.
“Because it was so aligned with what the foundation was trying to do,” Tatum said. “But then also what we stood for, as a league and have always stood for, which is the values of diversity, equity inclusion.”