This year’s NBA All-Star stage isn’t just for LeBron James, Steph Curry and the other top players in the league.
There’s another game in town, which can have a much more lasting impact.
When basketball’s best players gather in Cleveland to dunk, shoot 3-pointers and fraternize with business partners as the league celebrates its 75th anniversary this weekend, another group of players will get a chance to shine in the middle. twinkling stars.
Morgan State will face Howard on Saturday in the inaugural NBA HBCU Classic, a game that will provide major exposure — and funding — to historically black colleges and universities while expanding the league’s longstanding commitment to the HBCUs, a national network of 107 schools.
“I’m thrilled,” said Chris Paul, Phoenix Suns guard, 12-time All-Star and former president of the NBA Players Association. “It’s a great step for them. This is the education of it. Many people don’t understand the importance of HBCUs and why they were formed. Continuing to elevate them and give them a stage and a platform is very important. »
Paul played a major role in expanding the league’s ties with the HBCUs, a partnership that dates back 35 years with former commissioner David Stern, founding board member of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund.
The HBCU experience was celebrated at last year’s All-Star Weekend in Atlanta, where marching bands trumpeted players on the floor, pitch teams played and the league used NBA referees who attended HBCUs.
In total, the league and NBPA donated $3 million to the HBCU community for scholarships, advancement initiatives and other programs last year. Those funds are expected to increase in 2022 with TNT and ESPN broadcasting Saturday’s game from the Cleveland State campus.
And while the financial windfall is essential, the All-Star stage also provides institutions with an opportunity to promote their stories while serving as a recruiting tool – for academics and athletes.
Attracting top players is a decades-old challenge in HBCUs. They’re rarely on national television, usually get one or two teams in the NCAA Tournament, and rarely make it past the first round.
It’s a tough sell for a coach, who might be trying to convince top-notch athletes to come play in front of less than 1,000 fans while a Power 5 school can promise sold-out arenas, overseas trips and state-of-the-art equipment. facilities.
This is why the NBA All-Star invitation is so vital.
“They’re like the big brother, and we’re the little brother,” Morgan State coach Kevin Broadus said. “They bring us in and show the kids that you can do it from anywhere in the world.”
HBCU players have reached the top league in the world in the past with Charles Oakley, Avery Johnson, Rick Mahorn and Ben Wallace among the most notable. Robert Covington (Tennessee State), traded last week from Portland to the Clippers, is the only former HBCU currently in the league.
But Broadus, who played at Grambling and Bowie State, thinks the All-Star showcase can prime the HBCU-NBA pipeline.
“There are a lot of guys who played in the HBCUs before that that came to the NBA and the league helps open that eye and gives guys hope that they have a chance to play at that level,” said Broadus. “They say, ‘We’re going to take you to our stage and show you what it’s all about,’ and I hope some of those guys get some looks.
“As I always tell these guys, you can play anywhere in the country and someone is going to find you. It’s their job to find good players.”
In addition to the potential to catch the eyes of NBA scouts, Morgan State and Howard’s inclusion in the All-Star festivities will allow their programs to be seen by high school athletes who may not have of HBCU on their radars.
Broadus knows the drill. As a Binghamton coach and an assistant at Georgetown and Maryland, he understands what it’s like to recruit talent against the football giants.
But just as Howard landed heralded rookie Makur Maker (he spent a year in school and now plays professionally in Australia) a few years ago, an elite player can raise a school’s profile.
“You only need one of those top players to love you,” Broadus said. “You don’t need all 100 – just one. We’re just looking for the next great player to help take our program to the next level.
It won’t just be hula hoops for student-athletes Morgan State and Howard at All-Star Weekend in Cleveland.
In addition to meeting past and present players, there will be workshops with league executives and other industry players to network and discuss mentorship opportunities.
“We hire lawyers. We hire technology leaders. We hire creative people. We hire communications professionals,” said Greg Taylor, executive director of the NBA Foundation. “So the Off-Court Education and Career Development program is about exposing student-athletes to what it takes to get one of those job or career tracks.”
This summer, the league is also launching the HBCU Scholarship Program, a 10-week internship for undergraduates and graduates.
While these initiatives are noble, Taylor said the investment from stars like Paul and Curry, who have pledged to fund Howard’s golf programs for six years, has helped preserve HBCUs’ legacy and ensure their to come up.
“I think 20 percent of college graduates come from HBCUs every year when they’re only 3 percent of the number of colleges and universities in the country,” Taylor said. “It’s an incredibly important pipeline, and for players to lean in and share their fame, knowledge and visibility to shine a light on these institutions, that’s what it’s all about.”
AP Sports Writer David Brandt in Phoenix contributed to this report.
More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/tag/NBA and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports