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Stan Van Gundy: 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s Jr.’s death “finds us going backwards”

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SVG joins several of the NBA’s best in a roundtable discussion reflecting on MLK.

NBA: Detroit Pistons at Washington Wizards Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Martin Luther King Jr. has a special place in Detroit history.

While he may have delivered his famous “I Have a Dream Speech” during the march on Washington in 1963, he first tested the words during the Detroit Walk to Freedom a month before.

King was killed 50 years ago in Memphis, Tennessee, assassinated on April 4, 1968. He was standing on the balcony of the Lorriane Motel. He only made it to Memphis after a bomb threat delayed his flight.

The man lived in constant threat of death in his fight for equality and it was a threat eventually fulfilled.

The Pistons played a day game for MLK Day and many around the NBA took the opportunity to reflect on King’s memory.

Marc Spears assembled a roundtable of Stan Van Gundy, Gregg Popovich, Dwayne Casey, Steve Kerr, and Doc Rivers, and it was as awesome as you would expect it to be. These are some smart, thoughtful men.

Of course, others had great insights, Pop in particular. But one perspective I particularly enjoyed was that from Casey.

The Raptors coach started by talking about growing up in the KKK-filled Kentucky, but here’s Casey’s response when Spears asked, “This year marks the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s death. Do you think Americans have progressed since then?”

Casey: Wow. We have progressed. The NBA is one of the places with occupations that are really progressive, breaking racial barriers. There are opportunities for minorities, women and all genders. We really have a special platform that we work with.

I think there are other areas where we haven’t progressed. The police brutality that we see every day in different cities. … Those narratives are still out there against minorities that we don’t work as hard or we are not as smart. Whatever it is, those narratives and stereotypes are still there. Those are the things we have to continue to work with. The only way you defeat that is being a success and leading in your field, whether it’s the medical field, athletic field, whatever field it is, being an educator. Being successful in those fields is the only way we can do away with those negative narratives and stereotypes that people still have of minorities.

It’s interesting to see that Casey starts with the good. And he’s right. The NBA probably does a better job than most organizations to promote inclusiveness.

Still, I tend to lean more toward SVG’s harsher take. The reason for the rare 12:30 Pistons tip on a Monday is because of King. For us to remember him and take the opportunity to reflect on his legacy.

Last week, the president of the United States referred to areas with individuals of non-white descent as “shithole countries.” It was the latest in a long and consistent barrage of racist behavior from the individual.

That’s a situation that is mostly beyond any of our control for now. But Martin Luther King Jr. Day offers the opportunity for reflection. Reflection on our views and beliefs of equality and what equality means. Regardless of political views or affiliations, that’s an opportunity we should all take advantage of.

Thanks to SVG and the other coaches involved in the roundtable for starting the conversation.