Forty-five years ago today, Martin Luther King took his final breath on the second floor balcony of Memphis’ Lorraine Motel, forever altering the scope of history as we’ve come to know it. Wilt Chamberlain and then-Presidential candidate Richard Nixon were simply two of the thousands to attend MLK’s funeral procession days later.
Chamberlain – a vocal Republican during his life – was never known to embrace social commentary in the vein of his fellow larger-than-life peer, Bill Russell. Speaking of Russell and Chamberlain, two ironic sports facts align with King’s assasination.
1. Boston and Philly were both preparing for Game 1 of the Eastern Division Finals (the Eastern Conference Finals as we know it now). There were no games played at all on April 3 or April 4. This means, those players likely saw (or listened on the radio to) King’s “Mountaintop” speech as well as sitting in complete shocker as Walter Cronkite or Robert Kennedy broke the news of his death a day later.
2. Game 1 of the series tipped off not even 24 hours after King took one in the neck. The game was defined as “unreal” and “devoid of emotion” and one Boston would win 127-118.* Yes, a day after the country’s most identifiable Black leader was killed and during the most contentious racial period in American history, the NBA played a playoff game. A game where eight of the 10 starting players were Black. I’m not saying this was right or wrong, but imagine the overall feel of the game, arena and country at that time. Anything but basketball seemed important. This definitely doesn’t happen in 2013 though. The pressure on Twitter alone would force the NBA’s hand; much like the Rutgers situation.
Before going on about your day, watch footage of Cronkite reporting King’s death on the CBS Evening News. Then shoot the clip over to your parents and/or grandparents. I guarantee you at least one of them could tell where they were and what they were doing on this day 45 years ago.
* – Eventually the series, too, 4-3 becoming the first team in history to erase a 3-1 series defecit. When people say Russell was better than Wilt, moments like these are the basis for the argument. Go back and research everything that happened during those seven games. You’ll be floored. I guarantee it.