Black History Month Holds Special Meaning for Knicks

The NBA trade deadline has come and gone. February is about to turn to March. More and more focus will be on teams vying for a playoff spot, such as the Knicks, and playoff seeding.

But for the Knicks, February holds special meaning.

February is Black History Month, a time to remember those that helped pave the way for so many Americans and to learn about the culture of African Americans and other minorities.

In conversations with the Knicks players over the last month, the integration of the NBA was a topic that emerged several times. Several Knicks were fascinated to learn that the Knicks, according to the NBA, were the first team to sign an African American player.

Nat ‘Sweetwater’ Clifton was acquired from the Harlem Globetrotters, who had signed him for $12,500. A 10-day contract in today’s NBA is worth about $30,000.

(Original Caption) 1951-Nat Sweetwater Clifton, of the New York Knickerbockers, holding a basketball in each hand.

Earl Lloyd became the first African American to play in the NBA when he suited up for the Washington Capitols on Oct. 31, 1950 against the Rochester Royals. Clifton made his debut four days later.

Both players faced more than their share of bigotry. They were denied service in restaurants. Lloyd was not allowed to stay at the team hotel in Baltimore.

“Those fans in Indianapolis, they’d yell stuff like, ‘Go back to Africa,’” Lloyd told The Syracuse Herald American in 1992. “My philosophy was: If they weren’t calling you names, you weren’t doing nothing. If they’re calling you names, you were hurting them.”

NEW YORK - 1950: Earl Lloyd #11 of the Syracuse Nationals poses for a portrait circa 1950. 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. (Photo by NBAE Photos/ NBAE/ Getty Images)

Many of the Knicks are well aware of the plight that African Americans, and people of all colors, have endured. They see that great progress has been made, but believe there is a long way to go before equality is realized in this country.

“It’s definitely a start, learning about people who fought in the struggle, [and] people who can inspire our youth and inspire Americans,’’ said Joakim Noah. “I think that’s important. You learn about them in Black History Month. These are people that inspire you through adversity at any time.

“You look at Martin Luther King, you look at Malcolm X, you look at Harriet Tubman, you look at Bob Marley, you look at Muhammad Ali, Frederick Douglass, people who come from all different shapes of life who sacrificed for people.’’

Noah will miss his eighth straight game tonight (and the rest of the regular season after undergoing knee surgery) when the Knicks (24-35) look to make it two straight wins if they can beat the Toronto Raptors (34-24) at The Garden.

Carmelo Anthony drained a 10-foot jumper with three-tenths of a second left to beat the Philadelphia 76ers, 110-109, on Saturday night at The World’s Most Famous Arena. Anthony, who said he only had Black History Month T-shirts in his locker in February, finished with 37 points on 15-of-25 shooting.

Knicks Anthony Hernangomez

“I think it’s an opportunity to acknowledge the people who laid the foundation for us and everything we have now,’’ Anthony said. “The injustices that we’re fighting now, the people that came before us showed us how.

“I’d like to see us do more on education, more of an emphasis on building up the educational system. More of an emphasis on teachers and the resources they need.’’

Several of the Knicks said that Black History Month coming on the heels of the presidential election made it more relevant this year. Their sentiments weren’t based on the outcome of the election as much as it is the fact the change can be unsettling.

“Yes, it’s Black History Month, but to me it symbolizes unity,’’ said guard Justin Holiday. “It is all people, people of color, minorities, as well as Caucasians. I think it’s good we have a month for us to realize that, especially the times we’re in now, that we have to be united.’’

Center Kyle O’Quinn knows this as well as any member of the Knicks.

Knicks O'Quinn Thomas

A born and raised New Yorker, O’Quinn has lived in the world’s melting pot. He is the most gregarious of the Knicks, but beneath the smile and laughter is a player very attuned to what’s transpiring around the world.

“When people are in the midst of going through something they need to know they weren’t the first person, the first people, the first country to go through that,’’ Quinn said.

“African Americans and other people have been going through this for a while – trials and tribulations. I think that this is a perfect time, with things that are going on with the world today, Black History Month came along at the perfect time.’’

Perhaps it did.

“A lot of people lost their lives fighting and battling to give us the freedom and opportunities to be able to do the things that we can in today’s world,’’ Courtney Lee said. “You just want to pay respects. You will never have a chance to meet them and say, ‘Thank you,’ to them so the most you can do is just honor them and remember what they did.

“Bring it back to life again by by acknowledging it and sharing it with people.”