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Behind the scenes with the Warriors: MLK Day, HBCU hoops and the White House

Golden State celebrated its 2022 NBA championship and the legacy of the civil rights icon across two days in D.C.

WASHINGTON – As Martin Luther King III, his wife and his daughter were honored before the second quarter of the Golden State Warriors’ holiday matchup against the Washington Wizards on Monday, an onlooking Stephen Curry got distracted from the team huddle and took a moment to reflect on the importance of this historic two-day trip.

Fans from both teams were in awe as the Warriors star scored 41 points and nailed six 3-pointers in Golden State’s victory. The 2022 NBA Finals Most Valuable Player was also in awe across two days.

The Warriors played on Martin Luther King Jr. Day in the nation’s capital, then celebrated their championship at the White House the next day, with Curry walking onto the stage with President Joe Biden in the White House’s historic East Room.

“It’s an appreciation of the platform that we’ve been given and the way it is being used for our successes to impact people’s live throughout our careers,” Curry told Andscape after the game Monday. “Playing on MLK Day is special with his [King’s] family here. Going to the White House is just about the power of sports and honoring the progress that has been made because of Dr. King and the legacy he created. The fact that we get to go play is a direct reflection of the freedoms he spoke about.

“There are certain names when you hear them that mean something in terms of the progress that has been made and we all can honor him in our own ways, whether it’s in our communities at home or at-large. The fact that they’re still out in the public eye carrying his legacy, that says it all. That moment they had at half court was powerful. I tapped the scorer’s table and wasn’t worried about what coach was saying at the time because I was reflecting on history. There was a lot of history.”

With the likes of U.S. congresswoman Nancy Pelosi and rappers J. Cole, E-40 and Mistah Fab in attendance along with the King family, the Warriors defeated the Wizards 127-118 in their lone visit this season to a sold-out Capitol One Arena. There were nine NBA games that took part on MLK Day to celebrate the life and legacy of the late civil rights leader who preached non-violent protest. The Warriors, Wizards and all NBA players taking part in MLK Day contests wore warmup T-shirts that read: “Now Is The Time To Make Justice A Reality For All.”

Since the holiday was first observed in 1986, the NBA has played games on MLK Day every year except the strike-shortened 1998-99 season. There have been 367 games played on the holiday, according to NBA.com. King III told Andscape he appreciated the NBA celebrating the MLK holiday annually and thought it was “special” that the players wore commemorative MLK T-shirts.

“Any time you are using the platform of sport to talk about what Martin Luther King represents is very positive,” King III said. “Millions of people, millions of fans are seeing this. There used to not be so many games in the past. I’ve gone to one in Atlanta and for a few other teams. But I just think the focus on the holiday and people talking about it can positively impact a nation.”

From left to right, Martin Luther King III; King’s daughter, Yolanda Renee King; King’s wife, Arndrea Waters King; and Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr pose after the Warriors’ win against the Washington Wizards on Monday in Washington, D.C.

About an hour after the game, King III and his family met with a very excited Warriors head coach Steve Kerr and general manager Bob Myers for about 10 minutes in a private room. The hope was that the King family would get to meet with players, too. It’s common for the King family to visit the Wizards on MLK Day.

Kerr and Myers invited King III and his family to visit the Warriors for a game in San Francisco in February during Black History Month. King III said he wanted to come. Kerr also told the King family he hoped to visit the King Memorial here on Wednesday morning.

“I was rooting for ya’ll to win,” King III admitted to Kerr.

About 30 minutes later, Pelosi and at least 20 people, including her security detail, took over the same private room and patiently waited for Curry. She was ecstatic when the Warriors star walked into the room still in uniform to visit her. Pelosi hugged Curry upon arrival.

“Congratulations on a great game. It is great to see you,” Pelosi told Curry.

Later Monday evening, there was another MLK basketball celebration just down the road between two historically Black universities as Howard University’s men’s basketball team hosted Morehouse College, King Jr.’s alma mater. In a nationally televised game, Howard routed Morehouse 89-65 at the sold-out Burr Gymnasium. It was truly an HBCU event, as the Howard band and cheerleaders entertained the crowd as well as rapper Mistah F.A.B. at halftime.

Warriors players Andre Iguodala, Kevon Looney, Jordan Poole, Moses Moody and Jonathan Kuminga attended the game. Afterwards, Iguodala, Washington Wizards rookie Johnny Davis, Warriors chief legal officer David Kelly and Howard men’s basketball coach Kenneth Blakeney took part in a sports and culture panel at midcourt.

Iguodala truly enjoyed his first time at an HBCU sporting event.

“I felt like I did my first time back in Africa,” Iguodala said during the panel discussion. “I’m of African descent. My pops is from Nigeria. When I landed and got to the city [of Lagos, Nigeria], it was like a warm embrace just seeing us, especially with my background studying our people. It’s always beautiful to see us together and see the community.

“It was a great basketball game. There was so much entertainment with the band, the dancers, and the cheerleaders. It was a beautiful atmosphere.”

Noah Graham

Top photo: Andre Iguodala (left) and Jordan Poole (right) pose for photos with fans at Howard University’s Burr Gymnasium. Bottom photo: Poole poses with Howard cheerleaders during the first half of the Howard-Morehouse men’s basketball game Monday.

Noah Graham

The 2015 NBA champion Warriors visited the White House on Feb. 4, 2016, when President Barack Obama was in office. The Warriors’ 2017 and 2018 NBA championship teams, however, didn’t visit the White House when President Donald Trump was in office. The Warriors were already planning on not visiting the White House after their 2017 title after Curry most notably stated that he didn’t want to go because of Trump. Curry was critical over Trump’s verbal attacks on Black athletes protesting the national anthem. Curry, Kerr, and the Warriors players at-large believed Trump was racially dividing the nation.

The Warriors were supposed to have a team conversation after Media Day on Sept. 23, 2017, about whether they wanted to attend a 2017 NBA title celebration ceremony at the White House with the expectation to decline a potential offer. Curry and his wife, Ayesha, woke up to a tweet from Trump that morning that he was no longer invited to the White House for the traditional champions’ trip to Washington. Trump’s tweet also was a day after the president told NFL owners to fire players who didn’t stand for the national anthem while protesting social injustice and racism.

“It was a wild morning because it was not what we expected,” Curry reflected to Andscape after beating the Wizards. “We planned to have a meeting about [the White House] that day at [our first] practice. I woke up and my wife tapped me on the shoulder and said, ‘Have you see this?’ I said, ‘What?’ She showed me the tweet. It was kind of a narrative for the day. It created a microcosm of all the tension at the time.

“We were going to have a mature conversation about how we were going to handle the situation. In his fashion, he got loud and took it into his own hands. At the end of the day, it was my decision and the group’s decision. Now, we have another opportunity to go back, which is pretty cool.”

Instead of going to the White House in 2016, the Warriors toured the National Museum of African American History and Culture with local Washington students. In 2019, the Warriors met with Obama instead of visiting Trump in the White House. Kerr added that the Warriors deciding not to visit when Trump was in the White House had everything to do with him and nothing to do with the Republican party.

Kerr reflected on not going to the White House with Trump then versus going now with Biden in office.

“We weren’t invited, but I don’t think we would’ve gone anyway,” Kerr told Andscape. “Those were the times. Part of the reason that Biden is in the White House is the majority of Americans desired calm and peace. It’s a calmer time. Things kind of go back to normal where you win a title and visit the White House. It’s a great day for everybody. There is not this big brouhaha.

“It has nothing to do with the party. I’ve met [President Ronald] Reagan. Both Bushes [Presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush]. And I was thrilled to meet them. It has nothing to do with the party. It’s the human being. We just didn’t feel like Trump treated people with respect and it would have felt wrong to visit. But he beat us to the punch anyway.”

Added Warriors forward Draymond Green to Andscape: “Just to know that things are in a better place, and we can have that honor to celebrate a championship isn’t something to take it for granted. We were the first team to really lose that opportunity.”

Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry (right) presents President Joe Biden (left) and Vice President Kamala Harris (center) with jerseys during an event to celebrate the 2022 NBA Champions in the East Room of the White House on Jan. 17, 2023.

Demetrius Freeman/The Washington Post via Getty Images

These reigning NBA champion Warriors truly enjoyed their return to the White House.

Curry and Kerr kicked off the Warriors’ media rounds by making remarks in the White House briefing room with White House press secretary Karine Jeane-Pierre. Curry thanked Biden for “getting [WNBA star] Britney Griner home” from Russia. Griner returned to the United States in December after an America-Russia prisoner swap concluded 10 months of detention on drug smuggling charges after she tried to depart the country with one gram of CBD oil. Kerr also said that he took part in a roundtable on gun violence and gun safety with senior White House staffers, Moody and Warriors star Klay Thompson.

Curry also thanked Biden and Vice President and longtime Warriors fan Kamala Harris for the invite. After Curry and Kerr departed, Jeane-Pierre continued her press briefing with questions non-related to the Warriors.

“To have this opportunity to reflect on the accomplishment last year, to bring everybody together to celebrate that, to also acknowledge the place sports has in bringing people together from all walks of life, all backgrounds,” Curry said during the press briefing. “To have another opportunity to celebrate that means a lot.”

On the State Floor level of the White House is the historic East Room, which is typically used for press conference, bill signings, and dance and music performances. The largest of the State Rooms was originally designed by George Washington and James Hoban to be a “Public Audience Room.” John F. Kennedy’s casket was laid in the East Room after he was assassinated on Nov. 22, 1963. President Lyndon B. Johnson also signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 in the East Room on live television.

The Warriors’ second trip the East Room since 2016 included several Bay Area hip-hop icons in Too $hort, E-40, Mistah F.A.B., and hip-hop journalist Sway Calloway, who are Oakland, Calif., natives. San Francisco mayor London Breed was in attendance, as well as Pelosi and her husband, Paul.

Kerr, Curry, and Warriors players collectively have been known for fighting against social injustice, racism, and gun violence. Calloway said the Warriors’ reputation on and off the hardwood is the reason he made sure he attended.

“These Warriors players signify the spirit of the Bay Area that has been there for generations prior to us,” Calloway, who has been living in New York City for years, told Andscape. “They’re champions. They never give up. They’re resilient. And they are active on and off the court. These guys are social activists as well.

“They are a tremendous inspiration. It was important for me to be here to support them at the White House — being a Bay Area native born and raised in Oakland, California, being born in Kaiser Hospital and going to Oakland High. Living on the East Coast, I’m always sounding off on the Warriors to an empty room, baby. So, I have to come celebrate. I’m proud of these guys.”

From left to right: Too $hort, Sway Calloway, E-40 and Mistah F.A.B. pose outside the White House on Jan. 17, 2023.

marc j spears/andscape

Green appreciated the support from the hip-hop stars.

“The way our fans support us is incredible,” Green said. “Short, Fab, 40, they embody everything of what it is to be a Warrior. The support has been there through the up days and down days. I love and appreciate it. They’ve taken us in as their own, and you have to show that love and appreciation back.”

The East Room was truly standing room only when the Warriors’ players, coaches and staff from the 2022 NBA title team took to the stage. Harris, who mentioned that she was an Oakland native and longtime fan, was next to arrive to the stage and saluted her beloved team. The Warriors sent Harris a celebratory jersey after she became Vice President that she says is hanging in her workout room at home. After Harris’ speech, Biden and Curry took to the stage to the delight of Green.

“The thing that stood out to me the most was seeing Steph walk out with President Biden. That was such an incredible moment,” Green said.

Curry most enjoyed the free-loving vibe.

“Just the vibe is obviously different in the sense of accepting people from different walks, different backgrounds and actually walking that walk,” Curry said.

Biden also highlighted the Warriors’ activism by saying they were “speaking out against racism, standing up for equality. I mean speaking out loudly against racism standing up for encouraging people to vote, empowering children and their families to eat healthy, learn and play and safe places, rallying the country against gun violence.”

At the end of the ceremony, the 80-year-old Biden surprised the room by kneeling on the stage during a group picture taken with the Warriors and Harris. There was no explanation given for Biden kneeling.

Curry appreciatively called the moment “pretty dope.”

“Very symbolic and an iconic moment of a sense of what that image was,” said Curry, who visited the Oval Office and was given a special presidential coin and golf balls from Biden. “The fact that he would do it there. He didn’t put words to it, but he is just a humble server. That is how you want anyone to approach the position he is in let alone the magnitude of that moment. It was pretty dope. That picture is going to be one to keep.”

There have been many great days for the Warriors during their run of four championships from 2015 to 2022. But even the reigning NBA champs admit that playing on MLK Day in D.C. followed by a return to the White House under Biden is something that they will always remember fondly.

“You add [the] Dr. King holiday, White House visit and the atmosphere at the game yesterday at the arena, it brings the good vibes, the good memories of the championship and the good energy of gratitude and appreciation for what we have accomplished and the journey we’ve been on,” Curry said. “And you can collect the sports world and non-sports world to kind of bring those worlds together and talk about things that actually matter. It’s special.

Said Green: “You try to bottle the energy up that you got from these couple of days and do something with it. It’s been an incredible couple of days for us.”

Marc J. Spears is the senior NBA writer for Andscape. He used to be able to dunk on you, but he hasn’t been able to in years and his knees still hurt.