MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Monday marked the Memphis Grizzlies' 21st Martin Luther King Jr. Day Celebration Game in a city that will forever be linked to Dr. King.
"People do their research about MLK, (his murder) at the Lorraine Motel, the National Civil Rights Museum and what he means to Memphis," said Grizzlies fan Jay Allen.
Allen is one of the many Memphis fans who had the MLK Day game circled on their calendars.
"We made a whole weekend about it,” he said. “We went to the (Civil Rights) museum and everything before we came here."
For some, it's a reminder of both the best and worst of what Memphis has to offer.
"Sometimes we're not known for the best things,” said Memphis native Karlyn Bowers. “This can bring a lot of positivity to the name of the city, something important. There's a lot of racism still rampant going on but this can be a light, help to combat racism."
The link between sports and social justice is one of the reason's the National Civil Rights Museum uses the game to honor it's Sports Legacy Award recipients.
The 2023 group includes NBA greats Gary Payton and Luol Deng, women's basketball pioneer Nancy Lieberman and NFL star and current Tennessee State University head football coach Eddie George.
The four discussed what Dr. King's legacy meant to them during the Earl Lloyd Sports Legacy Symposium.
"I'd want to hear him today, see how it's changed from the 60s to now and what else can we do to get it better,” Payton said.
"To understand your purpose and your impact, it's such a valuable thing that we don't always get to understand,” Deng said. “Because we want to act upon right now and what we do."
The group was chosen for their contributions to the civil rights and social justice movements and how they’re using their platforms to continue the legacy of Dr. King.
"The thing that resonated the most with me was his ability to bring everyone together,” George said. “It was never just about black or white, it was about all races, all ethnicities. All people of different religions coming together and he did it in such a graceful way with such dignity."