Out of the shadows of the Civil War, historically black colleges and universities were created to make educational advancements and bring order to the imbalance in equality in America for freed slaves in the aftermath of Reconstruction. In the face of racism and segregation, African Americans dealt with America’s rejection and detest of them into institutions of higher education created to give them a haven from the hatred.

Out of the shadows of Gotham City, four HBCUs—Hampton University, Howard University, Virginia State University & Virginia Union University—arrived to play on the biggest stage in sports entertainment: Madison Square Garden. The Mecca of Basketball played host to these 4 universities making a name not just for themselves, but for the entire HBCU family.

This game is a reflection of the HBCU brand, as only so few black schools are allowed the opportunity to grace the temple that is Madison Square Garden. Beginning in 2006, the Big Apple Classic serves as an open invitation to let the world see what the HBCU culture is about. The bands, the stepping, the live crowd audience, the passion of the alumni, the enthusiasm of the students—there is nothing like the HBCU brand.

At the Big Apple Classic, all the world’s a stage, and these four HBCUs are merely players—but instead of exits, HBCUs are making their entrance and maintaining their presence in the national spotlight.

Out of all places to do so, here at the Garden, where Willis Reed walked out of the locker room despite a severe thigh injury to give his Knicks the emotional charge that they needed to defeat the Los Angeles Lakers in Game 7 of the 1970 NBA Finals.

Like Willis Reed in that transcendent moment for New York Knicks basketball, HBCUs are amazingly resilient and indomitable, able to overcome any and all obstacles—accreditation issues, tragic student deaths, controversial administration and faculty decisions—on their way to a greater destiny.

Out of the shadows of predominantly white institutions HBCUs came, for as much as PWIs can lay claim that dozens of their schools play at the Garden annually, the ambiance, the intensity and the excitement of the Big Apple Classic is unparalleled and unrivaled.

The Big Apple Classic is about celebration much more than it is about the competition. Negro spirituals and Psalms were the alma mater for every HBCU in the heyday. If freedom was the master plan, than the HBCUs were the blueprint to that plan for those brave predecessors.

If Virginia Union and Hampton do or don’t win the championships in their respective conferences, on December 4th 2011, the Garden became Eden for those two proud HBCU teams as they hoisted the trophies and toasted to the fruit of their labor. Howard and Virginia State are far from ruled out of the championship race, but this cold December loss may serve as the most bitter of any loss that they face during the season. Everything is bigger in New York.