On Saturday, the Mavericks faced off against the Atlanta Hawks. This game was circled on a lot of people’s calendars because it was to be a matchup between reigning NBA Rookie of The Year Luka Doncic and the player the Mavericks traded for him, Trae Young — but an ankle injury suffered by Luka earlier that week would keep him out of this anticipated matchup, tempering the mood a bit for fans and media alike.
Another reason this game was of note was because this was the Mavericks’ annual African-American Heritage Night game — the 21st such game in franchise history.
The night started off with a mixer at the AAC’s Jack Daniel’s Old No. 7 Club. Walking around the main concourse and in and around the Club, fans seemed unbothered about not having Luka Doncic or Kristaps Porzingis (load management) against the Hawks. As the DJ spun some good music, fans — many of them alumni members of NPHC (National Pan-Hellenic Council) fraternities and sororities — were vibing and connecting, enjoying the scene and each other’s company.
As the Mavericks’ organization did last season, a portion of the proceeds from tickets purchased for this event is slated to be donated to the NPHC of Dallas as well as to the United Negro College Fund, per a press release by the Mavericks’ front office. A great kickoff event benefiting two worthy organizations.
The Mavericks and the Hawks came to play, but the four young ladies from Dallas’ Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts did not come to play when it came to singing the National Anthem.
national anthem at mavs v. hawks by four phenomenal young ladies from dallas’ booker t. washington high school for the performing & visual arts pic.twitter.com/AASHO1Mfa2— mike tadd (@taddmike) February 2, 2020
The anthem rendition left the crowd buzzing for a while, and the Mavericks players were probably — in my estimation — still in awe of it as they quickly fell into a 10-point deficit to the Hawks. And just when many began having flashbacks to last season’s African-American Heritage Night game where the Mavericks lost to the Bucks by 15, this current Mavericks team would not go out like that again.
Shots dropped, defense happened, and like a torrent of hail stones falling down to earth on a warm day in Texas, the Mavericks inflicted maximum damage en route to a 62-49 halftime lead.
And then things really heated up as the halftime show kicked off. The Prairie View A&M University Marching Storm band came out to a raucous roar from the crowd, and they did NOT disappoint. The band maneuvered in tight formations while simultaneously delivering incredible music and, if you weren’t standing in the stands moving along with the music, then you were sitting down in your seat swaying with the music. There were no other options because the music was going to make you feel tonight.
Just as the band was playing their final notes, they moved in a slow, deliberate, almost somber maneuver to form one last shape on the court: they formed the number 24, ostensibly in memory of the late Kobe Bryant.
prairie view a&m marching band just formed #24 in honor of kobe bryant during the mavs-hawks halftime show pic.twitter.com/Tj028aOfOR— mike tadd (@taddmike) February 2, 2020
A great performance by a great band from one of the country’s finest HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges & Universities).
The second part of the halftime show was the annual recognition of a local leader as a True Maverick (awarded to someone who gives back to the Dallas community by making it a better place to live). This year’s recipient of this distinction was Ms. Ann Williams, the founder of the Dallas Black Dance Theatre.
The Mavericks would go on to secure a 123-100 victory with point guard Jalen Brunson leading all scorers with 27-points, 4 rebounds, 8 assists. I caught up with Brunson in the locker room (note: minutes after his big night, Brunson was in the locker room sipping on a chocolate milkshake).
Asked about his viewpoint on Black History Month in the NBA and what it means to him, Brunson turned introspective: “It’s a great tradition as a way to remember our history and where we came from. It’s really special how the NBA has embraced this month across the board. I wish, like in college, they did something more, like the NBA does. Obviously, the NBA is a much larger scale, but it’s become such a tradition here, it’s awesome.”
I also had an opportunity to talk with Mavericks CEO Cynt Marshall (who was wearing a Kente Black History Month scarf) about this special night recognizing a special month.
Especially as an African-American woman, Cynt’s eyes twinkled with pride and delight as she spoke about Black History Month: “Well, this is a special night for me considering my heritage and it makes me stop to think about the amazing shoulders that I stand on and all the wonderful African-American trailblazers who really led the way so that I can be where I’m right now. For the Dallas Mavericks, for our organization to stop and recognize Black History Month, who we are as a people, it just says a lot about the inclusive nature of our organization. It’s truly a great place to work, so I’m very excited about tonight.”
That the Mavericks continue to recognize the importance of Black History, and continue to host a game in recognition of this speaks volumes about the organization’s desire to recognize the history carried on the shoulders of the vast majority of its players.
Most Mavericks players I’ve talked to about Black History month have unanimously centered around the premise of the platform that being an NBA player gives them to speak about this important month, as well as giving them an opportunity to give back to the Black community in a meaningful way.
And while a lot of players tend to have a canned — albeit genuine — response on how they use their player platform during Black History Month, Jalen Brunson’s introspective honesty shone through when asked how he uses his platform: “I don’t know....I try to use my platform to help youth, giving back as much as I can with camps and stuff like that. But specifically for this month, that’s something I have to think about how best to do that.”
Brunson is a young player who’s still trying to find his footing in this NBA life. His response showed that while he’s young, his maturity level certainly isn’t. Any man that can openly admit that he, as a black NBA player, can and does need to do more during Black History Month really highlights his integrity.
If Brunson can wonder if he can and should do more during Black History Month, ask yourself what YOU can do this month as well. That’s a huge part of the annual African-American Heritage Night — an opportunity to recognize African-American Heritage, but also it’s an opportunity to ask yourself what you can do to help your community.