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The Mavericks create meaningful conversations with their celebration of Black History Month

What Black History Month means for some Mavericks players and fans.

Southern University’s ‘Human Jukebox” Marching Band pay tribute to Dirk Nowitzki during Dallas Mavericks 20th Annual African-American Heritage Night, American Airlines Center, February 8, 2019.

History has to be remembered and taught lest it disappear eternally.

Take, for example, the Mavericks’ Friday night matchup against the Milwaukee Bucks. It was a game that at times seemed tantalizingly close and at other times seemed to be on the verge of a 40+ point deficit. But the Mavericks kept the sold-out crowd engaged by way of the three ball. Although Dallas lost 122-107, the team managed to tie the franchise record for most 3-pointers made (22).

Recording this piece of history was all well and good, but it ultimately didn’t include a Mavericks victory; a theme that would show up in other ways on this night.

Friday night was a special night as the Mavericks hosted their 20th Annual African-American Heritage Night. The Mavericks offered several events to celebrate African-American contributions, not only to the franchise but to the North Texas community as well.

The pregame shoot-around featured players, coaches and team assistants sporting various Black History Month (BHM) shoes.

Black History Month-themed shoes worn during Dallas Mavericks 20th Annual African-American Heritage Night, February 8, 2019.

As I was walking from the floor up towards the press box, I observed a middle-aged, alumna of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. — wearing a sharp sweater with her sorority’s Greek letters — talking with a wide-eyed young teenage student. The young black man was taking in the sights of the American Airlines Center, and his gaze eventually stopped on the overhead digital video board looping a video of prominent African-Americans.

I don’t know if the Delta woman knew this young man, but as she pointed up at the video I like to imagine she was sharing supplemental knowledge that the young student maybe hadn’t learned yet. History was being made right then and there. It may not be recorded in some grand book of history, but that young man learned something in that moment.

A brief ceremony was held to congratulate the newest inductees into the Texas Black Sports Hall of Fame, including the Mavericks’ own Chris Arnold, the in-arena game night emcee who has been an integral part of the Mavericks’ broadcast team since 1996.

Mavericks in-arena game night emcee Chris Arnold is congratulated as a 2019 inductee of the Texas Black Sports Hall of Fame during Dallas Mavericks 20th Annual African-American Heritage Night, February 8, 2019.

A powerful rendition of the National Anthem by Dallas Police Department Officer Charles “Ray” Vaughn sent a buzz through a sellout crowd, which featured a mix of students from around the North Texas metroplex as well as several alumni members of the National Pan-Hellenic Council (historically Black Greek-Lettered Organizations) fraternities and sororities. A portion of ticket sales will be donated to the National Pan-Hellenic Council of Dallas and the United Negro College Fund.

In a scene reminiscent of the famous State Fair Classic football game held every fall at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas between Prairie View A&M University and Grambling State University, the real show was at halftime as the world famous Southern University “Human Jukebox” Marching Band performed.

The Mavericks found themselves in a 64-51 hole at the half, so the performance was a needed mood-booster for the home crowd.

And did the “Human Jukebox” deliver.

The marching band’s performance — and especially the special tribute to Dirk Nowitzki — had the crowd buzzing even after the final horn sounded. I shared an elevator with several alumni members of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) who, despite the Mavericks’ loss, were nonetheless excited to be at the game for fellowship with one another.

That’s the beauty of having the African-American Heritage Night — the sense of camaraderie and resiliency speaks volumes about black culture.

“I love that the Mavs do this night, we’re still going to have a good time!”, a woman adorned in a beautiful Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. sweater told me in the elevator.

Southern University “Human Jukebox” Marching Band pay tribute to the Dallas Mavericks’ Dirk Nowitzki during the Mavericks 20th Annual African-American Heritage Night, American Airlines Center, February 8, 2019.

Down in the locker room, I caught up with a few Mavericks players to talk about Black History Month from their individual perspectives. The Mavericks boast a very diverse team so I felt it was important to get thoughts not just from black players, but from international players as well.

“I haven’t had a lot of experience with it [Black History Month], obviously growing up in a different country [Australia], I’ve learned about the problems of the past, and problems that exist today, secondhand through books. I pride myself on being able to treat everyone the same but not everyone is like that and that’s why history has to be shared. “ — Mavericks forward, Ryan Broekhoff, an Australian native who played college basketball at Valparaiso University.

“I think it’s very important that we support this month and should be in all of our minds. Social justice is extremely important in this day and age especially. I think the NBA has an amazing platform to educate young kids, the young fans about this month and what it means specifically. It makes me very proud to be part of this league. I feel empowered to help keep the history alive and that’s why it’s important to me.” — Mavericks power forward/center, Dwight Powell, a Canadian national who played college basketball at Stanford University.

“Black History Month is always special, but I’m a guy who believes in embracing the history and the culture throughout the year. It’s an opportunity for us to recognize the pioneers that put their lives on the line for us, I mean how can you recognize all that in one month? But, I love it when you have foreign teammates like Kristaps and Luka who maybe don’t know a lot about black history, especially our past experiences, so I’m hopeful that this month is an opportunity for them to learn about this particular aspect of American history.” — Mavericks guard, Courtney Lee.

Remembering, recording, and teaching history, particularly African-American history — which sometimes doesn’t make it into history books used in American schools — is why Black History Month is so important. The NBA is a progressive league that, more than any of the other professional sports leagues, actually empowers its players to be outspoken — and this isn't lost on Mavericks players.

History will show that the Mavericks tied a franchise record for 3-pointers made on Friday night against the Bucks and that’s all well and good — but sometimes a notable historical fact isn’t enough.

History will also show that during Black History Month, the Mavericks’ 20th Annual African-American Heritage Night was widely celebrated. It’s a start, and an important conversation to have. But maybe, as some Mavericks players echoed, a notable month isn’t enough.