In honor of Martin Luther King Jr Day, Adrian Dantley reflects on seeing the “I Have a Dream” speech in person.
Originally Published in SLAM 135:
by Adrian Dantley (as told to Eric Woodyard)
I grew up in the Washington, DC area and I remember when I was 7 years old in 1963, my mama took me to The March on Washington rally, where Dr. King gave his “I Have A Dream” speech. I don’t remember much, but I remember going down there and there were a lot of people. I was too young to really understand what was going on, but I do remember going there.
I didn’t really brag to my friends about that because most of the guys already knew who Martin Luther King was; I’ve never said that I went to his speech. He was definitely very influential with civil rights. He was a great man, and he left us way too early.
There was a lot of electricity in the air because Martin Luther King was coming to speak. But if it’s anything I remember about Martin Luther King that had an effect on me, it was that he always preached non-violence and that no one was better than someone and that’s the way he treated himself. He always felt that he wasn’t any better than someone and no one was better than him. Also, one thing that I never forgot about him is how he stood up for civil rights, when Rosa Parks was on that bus and when she wouldn’t give up her seat for that white guy. That’s what got him started with civil rights and the Jim Crow laws. That had a big effect on me, and he laid the groundwork for getting the Jim Crow laws abolished. But the main thing was that he always taught non-violence.
I don’t think I ever experienced any incident or anything like that at all or any racial tones when I played basketball at Notre Dame. Things were bad but it wasn’t that bad where I noticed it in high school or college. But I remember a long time ago when Afro-Americans couldn’t even drink water in the same spot as white people. So a lot of things have changed over the years, and we still have somewhere to go.
The NBA does a lot on the Martin Luther King holiday, and if you watch the games on that day, you will see people at halftime talk about it. I don’t know how much more they can do, but overall I don’t do anything special just because it’s Martin Luther King Day. Usually we have a game or we have a game the next day, so it’s not like a holiday where you’re not doing anything at all.
I have a boy and two girls. I teach them certain things and I don’t necessarily say, This is what Martin Luther King said. But we talked about how Martin Luther King was when they were young. You know? Believe in non-violence. Believe in yourself, stand up for yourself, and don’t let anyone take advantage of you.