HBCUs will be taking center stage during the first-ever HBCU Classic at the upcoming NBA All-Star Weekend in February. The main event will be the basketball game between rivals Howard University and Morgan State University. Yet in the long-term, there will be opportunities for HBCU students to gain long-term career development within the NBA! Get the full story from Ben Golliver at The Washington Post below.

The Howard basketball team will take on Morgan State in the HBCU Classic as part of NBA All-Star Weekend. (Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post)

The men’s basketball teams from Howard University and Morgan State University will play a showcase game during the upcoming NBA All-Star Weekend in Cleveland, as the league seeks to expand its support of Historically Black Colleges and Universities.

The two Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference rivals will face off in the NBA’s inaugural “HBCU Classic” on Feb. 19, 2022, at Cleveland State University’s Wolstein Center. While Howard had been scheduled to host Morgan State at Burr Gymnasium on that date, the schools’ participation in the new event be televised nationally. The HBCU Classic is expected to air on multiple networks in between the NBA All-Star Game practice session and the traditional All-Star Saturday slate, which includes the Skills Challenge, the Three-Point Contest and the Slam Dunk Contest.

“That rivalry between Howard and Morgan State, between Washington D.C. and Baltimore, we thought that was a great rivalry to take advantage of [for the inaugural event] and it wouldn’t require too much maneuvering from their regular schedule,” NBA Deputy Commissioner Mark Tatum said by telephone Wednesday. “We hope to showcase and feature other schools down the road, but this seemed to be a pretty good one to start with.”

Last year, the coronavirus pandemic forced the NBA to delay and relocate its All-Star Weekend, which was originally scheduled for Indianapolis. The scaled-down event, which was held March 7 in Atlanta, featured several HBCU tie-ins, including jersey patches, marching band performances and donations to the Thurgood Marshall College Fund and the United Negro College Fund.

The National Basketball Players Association, under the guidance of then-president Chris Paul, helped push for the inclusion of the Black educational institutions, and the 2021 All-Star Weekend ultimately raised $3 million for HBCUs. Organizers expect this year’s All-Star event to generate an additional $1 million.

Kery Davis, Howard’s Director of Intercollegiate Athletics, said in a statement that his school was “incredibly proud” to be invited to the 2022 contest, noting that the NBA and HBCUs are “natural partners because of our rich legacy elevating underrepresented communities and our shared passion for cultivating opportunities for people of color.”

In addition to the HBCU Classic, the NBA is establishing a new paid fellowship program for HBCU students looking for their first jobs in the sports industry, an effort that Tatum said is aimed at “narrowing the racial inequality gap.” The league’s hope is that other sports organizations and non-sports corporations will follow suit and establish similar programs of their own.

After receiving pushback from players and criticism from media members and fans for hosting the 2021 All-Star Weekend at a time when vaccines were not widely available, the NBA is preparing for a return to a more typical experience in Cleveland. Officials arrived in the host city this week to begin preparations, as the league, which launched its 75th season this week, plans to honor its 75th Anniversary Team, just as it celebrated its 50th Anniversary Team at the 1997 All-Star Game in Cleveland.

“We’re hoping for as much of a normal season that we can get to,” Tatum said. “I was in Milwaukee [on Tuesday night and there was] a full building with enthusiastic fans. This virus is unpredictable, but our hope is that we will have as close to a normal All-Star Game as possible. We’re hoping that we will be able to play in front of a full arena of fans.”

Philadelphia 76ers stars Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons were unable to compete in the 2021 All-Star Game after they came into close contact with someone who tested positive for coronavirus, but fears of a possible superspreader event did not materialize. With 96 percent of players fully vaccinated and at least 75 percent of U.S. adults at least partially vaccinated, the NBA believes it is capable of safely hosting a multiday event that draws fans and media members from around the globe.

“There’s no doubt that we collectively as a country have advanced in many different areas [since March],” Tatum said. “We’ve learned and are continuing to learn how to operate, how to go about living our lives and conducting business in a pandemic. You’ve seen the evolution from [where we were when] the only way to do this safely was in a bubble. [Then, we could] open up our arenas and socially distance people and limit capacity. Today, [we can host crowds] with the right protocols in place, whether it’s a combination of vaccinations, testing, masking and distancing.”

The NBA and the NBPA have been focused on economic empowerment and career advancement issues in recent years, with the league agreeing to provide $300 million over the next 10 years to fund the NBA Foundation in Aug. 2020. In the wake of the Jacob Blake shooting later that month, the NBA and the NBPA agreed to form a Social Justice Coalition, comprised of players, coaches and team owners to advocate for policy changes on issues like voting access and civic engagement.

Some of the most visible advocacy efforts that took place during the Disney World bubble — national anthem demonstrations, Black Lives Matter court decals and social justice jersey slogans — have disappeared since the NBA returned to its home arenas for the 2020-21 season. Yet Tatum asserted that the commitments to HBCUs are evidence of “maturing” activism by the league and its players.

“Symbolic gestures are important, but we are now going beyond symbolic gestures and actually organizing and creating institutional resources to effect change, in partnership with the players,” he said. “By creating our Social Justice Coalition, we’re able to institutionalize some of the action that we’re taking and trying to rally support and advocate for sensible bipartisan changes that we think need to be made in criminal justice reform, voting access and the like.”