This Saturday Howard University Men’s basketball team will take part in the inaugural HBCU classic being held at the NBA All-Star game in Cleveland. Howard will face Morgan State in a clash of MEAC foes. The 8-12 Morgan State Bears will be facing a Bison team that has won five straight games and is 6-3 in in-conference play. Howard defeated Morgan State 91-82 earlier this season. With the MEAC tournament set to start in less than a month, the game has important conference tournament matchup implications.
The NBA started promoting HBCUs during last season’s All-Star game. They recognized the schools with patches on their jerseys, marching band performances, and financial contributions to the Thurgood Marshall College Fund and United Negro College Fund. This season the NBA and AT&T are set to donate $100,000 each to the athletic programs of HU and MSU. Last year’s NBPA president Chris Paul, who has famously supported HBCUs and attends Winston-Salem State University, helped organize the All-Star games saluting HBCUs last season.
The uptick in the NBA’s concerted efforts to recognize the importance of HBCUs coincided with the civil rights protests of the summer of 2020. The NBA, because of delays in the season due to the Corona virus, was in a unique position to recognize the historic movement happening. NBA players memorably refused to take the court during the playoffs following the shooting of Jacob Blake. It is likely that once the NBA realized how important the issue of Black rights was to the NBPA, it began to invest more resources in supporting Black causes—even if none of the efforts directly have reflected the genesis of the protests.
There is a storied connection between HBCUs and the NBA. While there is only one active HBCU alum in the NBA (Robert Covington), there are several in the NBA hall of fame. Some of the most notable graduates of HBCUs in the hall of fame include Earl “the Pearl” Monroe, Sam Jones, and (most recently) Ben Wallace. With the proliferation of integration, the best athletes began to choose Primarily White Institutions, changing the landscape of HBCU sports. More recently, some of the top prospects have decided to attend HBCUs in a significant shift in the culture of collegiate athletics.
There has been an increase in applications to HBCUs in the last handful of years. While the increase has been tied to recent national social events, many HBCUs reside in the southern portion of the United States. As such, many high school students aren’t aware of HBCUs existence or impact. With programs like the one the NBA is putting on this weekend, more students could be exposed to the rich culture and history that these schools have to offer.
The game will be simulcast on TNT and ESPN2, marking the 3rd time Howard Men’s Basketball team will be on national television this season. Coverage of the event will begin at 2:00 p.m. ET. Among those covering the event will be HBCU alumni Stephanie Ready (Coppin State), Stephen A. Smith (Winston-Salem State), and Brian Custer (Hampton). Howard’s Showtime band will play “Lift Every Voice and Sing” following the national anthem.