CLEVELAND (AP) — This year’s All-Star podium isn’t just reserved for LeBron James, Steph Curry and the competition’s other top performers.
There’s another game in town, one that could have a much longer lasting impact.
When Cleveland’s top basketball players gather to dunk, fire three-pointers and argue with business partners as the league celebrates its 75th anniversary this weekend, another group of players gets the chance to shine among the glittering stars.
Morgan State will face Howard in Saturday’s inaugural NBA HBCU Classic, a matchup that will provide major exposure — and funding — to historically black colleges and universities, while further expanding the league’s longstanding commitment to HBCUs, a nationwide network of 107 schools. extensive.
“I’m excited about it,” said Phoenix Suns guardian Chris Paul, a 12-time All-Star and past president of the NBA Players Association. “It’s a great stage for them. It is its education. Many people do not understand the importance of HBCUs and why they were formed. To continue to elevate them and give them a stage and a platform is very important.”
Paul was instrumental in broadening the league’s ties to HBCUs, a partnership dating back 35 years to former Commissioner David Stern as a founding board member of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund.
The HBCU experience was celebrated at Atlanta All-Star Weekend last year, where marching bands trumpeted players on the ground, step teams performed and the league used NBA umpires attending HBCUs.
In total, the league and the NBPA donated $3 million to the HBCU community last year for academic scholarships, promotion initiatives and other programs. Those funds are expected to grow in 2022 with TNT and ESPN broadcasting Saturday’s game from the Cleveland State campus.
And while the financial windfall is essential, the All-Star podium also provides the institutions with an opportunity to promote their histories while also serving as a recruiting tool — for academics and athletics.
Attracting high-profile players has been a challenge among HBCUs for decades. They are rarely on national TV, usually get one or two teams in the NCAA tournament, and rarely make it past the first round.
It’s a tough sell for a coach, perhaps trying to convince elite athletes to come play in front of fewer than 1,000 fans, while a Power 5 school has sold out arenas, overseas travel and state-of-the-art facilities.
That’s why the NBA All-Star invite is so important.
“They’re like the big brother, and we’re the little brother,” said Morgan State coach Kevin Broadus. “They bring us in and show the kids that you can make it anywhere in the world.”
HBCU players have made it to the top league in the world in the past, with Charles Oakley, Avery Johnson, Rick Mahorn and Ben Wallace being the most notable. Traded from Portland to the Clippers last week, Robert Covington (Tennessee State) is currently the lone HBCU alum in the league.
But Broadus, who played at Grambling and Bowie State, believes the All-Star showcase could prime the HBCU-to-NBA pipeline.
“There are a lot of guys who have played at HBCUs before that have made it to the NBA and the league is helping to open that eye again and giving guys hope that they have a chance to play at that level,” Broadus said. “They’re saying, ‘We’ll take you to our podium and show you what it’s all about,’ and hopefully some of these guys will be seen.
“As I always tell these guys, you can play anywhere in the country and someone will find you. Their job is to find good players.”
In addition to the potential to grab the attention of NBA scouts, Morgan State and Howard’s participation in All-Star festivities will ensure their programs are seen by high school athletes who may not have HBCUs on their radar.
Broadus knows the drill. As Binghamton’s coach and assistant in Georgetown and Maryland, he understands what it’s like to recruit talent against the goliaths of the game.
But just as Howard landed heralded recruit Makur Maker a few years ago (he spent a year at the school and now plays professionally in Australia), an elite player can raise a school’s profile.
“You only need one of those high-profile players to like you,” said Broadus. “You don’t need all 100 — just one. We’re just looking for the next really good player to take our program to the next level.”
It won’t be all hoops for the Morgan State and Howard student athletes at Cleveland’s All-Star Weekend.
In addition to meeting players from the past and present, there will be workshops with league leaders and others in the industry to network and discuss mentorship opportunities.
“We hire lawyers. We hire technology leaders. We hire creatives. We hire communications professionals,” said Greg Taylor, executive director of the NBA Foundation. “So the off-the-court education and career development programs are designed to expose the student-athletes to what it takes to obtain one of those jobs or career paths.”
This summer, the league is also launching the HBCU Fellowship Program, a 10-week internship for undergraduate and graduate students.
While those initiatives are noble, Taylor said the investment from stars like Paul and Curry, who have spent six years financing Howard’s golf programs, have been instrumental in preserving the legacy of HBCUs and ensuring their continued success. future.
“I think 20% of graduates come out of HBCUs annually, when they’re only 3% of the number of colleges and universities in the country,” Taylor said. “It’s an incredibly important pipeline, and it’s about the players sharing their celebrity and knowledge and visibility to shed light on these institutions.”