When the 2021 NBA All-Star Game tips off on Sunday night in Atlanta, each and every element in State Farm Arena is set to showcase HBCU tradition and culture.
Only 9 percent of Black college students are enrolled in Historically Black Colleges and Universities today, and few of those enrolled are Black athletes. In a league where the majority of athletes are Black, Damian Lillard believes its crucial for the NBA and others to find meaningful ways to support HBCUs.
“I just love the fact that HBCU’s are being highlighted,” Lillard said of Sunday’s All-Star Game. “I think over the last year, there’s been a lot more conversation about how the top athletes attended HBCU’s and considered them.”
In recent years, however, as Lillard notes, there’s been a seismic shift in the number of NBA players from HBCUs.
“I think a huge reason why you don’t see them being considered by the top players is because of the lack of resources, and facilities aren’t on the same levels as these power conference schools, so it’s not as appealing, and I think this is a start,” Lillard said.
There is only one appearing during All-Star Weekend: Lillard’s teammate, Portland Trail Blazers forward Robert Covington, who starred at Tennessee State, and will be representing HBCUs in the Taco Bell Skills Challenge.
“To be a part of it, I’m truly thankful,” Covington told NBCS Northwest’s Jamie Hudson. “It’s an opportunity that I couldn’t pass up and with everything that’s going on [throughout the weekend], especially towards HBCUs, it’s only right that I’m a part of it… It’s something that I’m really thankful to be a part of.
As part of the festivities Sunday, the NBA and NBPA will donate more than $3 million to HBCUs through the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, the United Negro College Fund, National Association for Equal Opportunity and Direct Relief Fund for Health Equity.
All-Star team captains, LeBron James and Kevin Durant, took it one step further when choosing which organizations their teams will play for. Team James chose TMCF, which comprises 47 HBCUs, while Team Durant went with UNCF, with consists of 37 member colleges.
Both organizations will receive $500,000, but the leading team will earn an addition $150,000 after each of the first three quarters. In the fourth quarter, the leading team will earn another $300,000.
Certainly, more is on the line than bragging rights Sunday night. The All-Star Game is also about lifting up the HBCU community and eliminating the misperceptions that have plagued HBCUs, and HBCU basketball programs for years.