Knicks Voice Gratitude for Martin Luther King Jr.

The Knicks host the Atlanta Hawks today in a game they need to win to climb back into the Eastern Conference playoff race.

At the halfway point of the season they are 18-23 but just a mere two and one-half games out of a playoff spot. So this is an important game.

But it is not the most important reason for Knicks’ fans to come to The World’s Famous Arena. Today (coverage begins at 12:30 p.m.; MSG Network) the Knicks, in conjunction with the NBA, celebrate Martin Luther King Day.

The sacrifices the great Civil Rights leader made, the change he inspired, the fortitude he showed is not lost on the Knicks, none of whom were alive when King was assassinated on April 4, 1968.

“When I think of Martin Luther King, one particular word comes to mind and that’s courage,’’ Carmelo Anthony recently told MSG Networks. “For someone to believe in something, and to stand and fight for that belief and for those rights. The way he did it. How he did it. We need more of that today.”

Perhaps we do. No league holds a greater appreciation for the changes King helped to implement than the NBA.

According to the most recent study on the racial makeup of the NBA, which was conducted in 2015 by equality activist Richard Lapchick – himself a great champion of civil rights and the son of former Knicks and St. John’s coach, Joe Lapchick – the NBA is comprised of 74.4 percent black players, 23.3 percent white players, 1.8 percent Latino players and 0.2 percent Asian players.

“A visionary,’’ Lance Thomas said. “A man with a dream. A man that saw things that might not have been accomplished right then and there but over time. It was his vision.’’

Had it not been for King, who knows what the composition of the NBA would be today.

“We have to tip our hat to what a wonderful human being Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was, what he stood for and what he believed in,’’ Anthony said. “Because if he didn’t do what he did, there would be a lot of things different nowadays.’’

NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 20: The New York Knicks line up during the National Anthem on MLK Day before a game against the Brooklyn Nets at Madison Square Garden in New York City on January 20, 2014. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2014 NBAE (Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)

King was 39 when he was assassinated. And he fought injustice wherever he saw it. He opposed the war in Vietnam because he believed money resources that went to that campaign could have been better used for social welfare at home.

“Some words that come to mind when I think of Martin Luther King is definitely a true leader,’’ said Kyle O’Quinn. “Courage for putting himself out there for those who really needed it and just determined to do great things for our people.’’

Today marks the 31st time the Knicks have played on MLK Day. They own a 20-10 record and have won two straight. It’s an important game for today. And an important game because it’s a testament to the man that helped bring about change.

“Definitely on honor to be playing on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day,’’ Anthony said. “Just so we can recognize what he stood for. He’s obviously a hero.’’

The Garden of Dreams Foundation helps kids facing obstacles in the Tri-State area, including Rangers fan Taylor Ryan who is battling a rare blood disorder called Langerhans cell histiocytosis.