MEMPHIS - The Memphis Grizzlies will be hosting the Ninth Annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Celebration on Monday, Jan. 17 when they play the Chicago Bulls. This year sports icon Willie Mays along with NBA Hall-of-Famers Willis Reed and Lenny Wilkens will be honored for their contributions to civil and human rights. The celebration is hosted by the Memphis Grizzlies, National Civil Rights Museum, City of Memphis and Shelby County and presented by FedEx, Hyde Family Foundation, Lexus, Delta, McDonald’s of the Mid-South, MLGW, State Farm, Sun Trust and the Great American Home Store.
Mays, Reed and Wilkens will be the recipients of the Sixth Annual National Civil Rights Sports Legacy Award, presented by FedEx. The award pays tribute to the athletes who have made significant contributions to civil and human rights and who have laid the foundation for future leaders through their careers in sports in the spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Considered by many as one of the greatest baseball players of all-time, Mays is one of the paramount sports icons in American history thanks to 22 years of illustrious play in the major leagues and an exuberant and joyous demeanor that has helped “The Say Hey Kid” inspire immeasurable numbers of people to fulfill Mays’s dream of giving every child a chance. In 1972, near the end of his unmatched playing career that saw him named MVP twice, set the record for putouts by an outfielder, record 3,283 hits, appear in 24 All-Star games, collect 12 Gold Gloves and hit 660 home runs (currently No. 4 all-time) Mays created the Say Hey Foundation. The Say Hey Foundation is dedicated to supporting education and the enrichment of underprivileged youth through education, scholarships, training and community support. Mays, who was born in Westfield, Ala., was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1979 in his first year of eligibility and has since received numerous honors as one of the premier athletes of the past 100 years, including being ranked by The Sporting News as the second greatest baseball player of all-time and eighth by ESPN in their ranking of the top athletes of the 20th century. He has also received honorary degrees from Ohio State University, Yale University, Miles College, Dartmouth College and San Francisco State University.
Reed was the heart and soul of the New York Knicks' 1970 and 1973 championship teams, leading the Knicks to their first NBA title in 1970. It was during the 1970 NBA Finals when Reed provided one of the most courageous and memorable moments in NBA history when he overcame a severe leg injury to start Game 7 against the Los Angeles Lakers and inspire his teammates to the win. Widely recognized as one of the greatest Knicks players ever, Reed was enshrined in the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1982 after spending 10 season with the Knicks where he was named regular season MVP (1970), Finals MVP (1970, 73), All-NBA First Team (1970), All-NBA Second Team (1967, '68, '69, '71) and NBA All-Defensive Team (1970). Reed was also selected as one of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA history in 1996. Born in Hico, Louisiana in the 1940’s, Reed attended Grambling State University in Louisiana. Following his playing career, Reed held numerous coaching and front office positions with teams including the Sacramento Kings, Atlanta Hawks and New Jersey Nets. He last served as the Vice President of Basketball Operations for the New Orleans Hornets.
As a three-time member of the Basketball Hall of Fame, Wilkens is one of the most decorated individuals to ever be associated with the game of basketball, after a stellar career as both a player and coach. Despite being one of the greatest point guards in NBA history and currently ranking second all-time for coaching victories, some of Wilkens’ greatest contributions to society have come away from the court, where he has committed himself to serving the underprivileged. Wilkens created the Lenny Wilkens Foundation, which funds organizations that deliver healthcare and educational services to young people. The primary recipient of funds from the Lenny Wilkens Foundation is the Odessa Brown Children’s Clinic, a community clinic of Children’s Hospital of Seattle. After a 15-year playing career that included nine-NBA All-Star appearances, Wilkens went on to coach the Seattle Super Sonics to their only NBA championship in 1979. He was also named the NBA’s Coach of the Year in 1994, and is only person included on the NBA’s all-time top 50 list of players and top 10 list of coaches. Wilkens is also a two-time Olympic gold medalist after serving as an assistant on the 1992 Dream Team (which also earned him his third induction into the Basketball Hall of Fame after previous inductions as a player and coach) and the head coach of the 1996 USA team.
“We expect this to be one of the most impactful and insightful group of honorees we have ever presented the National Civil Rights Sports Legacy Award to on this very important day,” said Greg Campbell, Grizzlies President of Business Operations. “We are humbled to have the opportunity to honor three individuals whose work not only as ballplayers, but also champions of civil and human rights away from the game helped set the standard for generations.”
The day will begin this year with the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Sports Legacy Symposium, presented by the Hyde Family Foundation. The symposium will feature Mays, Reed and Wilkens, who will share their stories and experiences about their contributions to civil and human rights in the spirit of Dr. King. The free symposium will be held in the Coventry Health Care Practice Facility at FedExForum from 10-11 a.m., with doors set to open at 9:30 a.m.
Following the symposium, the Grizzlies and Bulls will tip-off at noon in a nationally televised game on ESPN, presented by Lexus and Delta, along with Associate Sponsors State Farm, Sun Trust and the Great American Home Store. Fans will want to arrive early, as FedEx will present the National Civil Rights Museum Sports Legacy Ceremony prior to tip-off, where Mays, Reed and Wilkens will receive their awards. The National Anthem will then be performed by acclaimed rhythm and blues, gospel singer and civil rights activist Mavis Staples. The halftime ceremony, presented by MLGW, will feature a special Martin Luther King, Jr. video tribute, recognition of Mays, Reed and Wilkens and a performance by Staples, who rose to fame as a member of her family’s band, The Staples Singers. Staples returned to prominence this year with her critically acclaimed solo album, “You are Not Alone.”
After the game, McDonald’s of the Mid-South will present the annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Day High School Classic. This year the Central High Warriors will tip-off the first contest against the Southwind Jaguars at 3:30 p.m., followed by a contest between the Dyer Count Choctaws and the White Station Spartans. Admission is free with the purchase of a ticket to the Grizzlies game.
This marks the sixth year the Grizzlies and the National Civil Rights Museum have given out the Sports Legacy Award, presented by FedEx. Last year, Oscar Robertson and Alonzo Mourning earned the honor. Previously, Julius Erving and David Bing were presented with the award in 2009. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Bob Lanier were honored with the award in 2008. David Robinson and Dikembe Mutombo were the recipients for the award in 2007 and Bill Russell and Mannie Jackson received the inaugural distinction in 2006.