DALLAS – One of the most iconic figures in the world will be honored today when America observes Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
Dr. King was a civil rights leader who spent the lion’s share of his life fighting for equality. King received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964 for combating racial inequality by using non-violence, and has often been celebrated for inspiring peace and unity.
“Martin Luther King is like a super hero, because without him I wouldn’t be able to sit right here and give y’all this interview, or even be in (the NBA) and put my family in the position that they’re in now,” Dallas Mavericks rookie point guard Dennis Smith Jr. said. “He’s done a lot.”
Mavs center Dwight Powell also is appreciative of Dr. King, who touched a country from his distinguished ‘I Have A Dream’ speech to his many marches in search of equal rights.
“We’re forever indebted to him and the people around him and his family for the things that they did — all the people in the (Civil Rights) Movement at that time,” Powell said. “They gave up a lot and they risked everything for the next generations.
“They saw some change in their time, but not nearly as much as they deserved. So we’ve got to pay homage to him and pay homage to them for their sacrifice and the price they paid for us to have the life that we have now.”
The following are the thoughts of the African-American players on the Mavs’ squad — in their own words — about Dr. King and his legacy:
WHAT DOES MARTIN LUTHER KING JR. MEAN TO YOU: I have a lot of respect for Martin Luther King Jr. and his commitment to fighting for equality in the community. I think when you look at everything that’s going on now in our society – whether it’s Black Lives Matter or whether it’s a protest – we’re still fighting for the same issue, as sad as that is. I think he was definitely just wise beyond his time.
WHERE WOULD THIS COUNTRY BE WITHOUT THE SACRIFICES HE MADE: He gave his life for the cause. He put himself out there. He knew it was going to be tough, especially the way that blacks were treated back then. There are some parallels to how blacks are still mistreated now — the gap that we still need to close in terms of equality. But he did all of that in the face of diversity. I think that’s commendable, and you have respect and honor his legacy by continuing that work.
WHAT DO YOU THINK WOULD BE HIS THOUGHTS IF HE WERE ALIVE TODAY: I’m sure he would be happy in some regards and disappointed in others. A lot of the things that he was fighting for and championing and trying to get people to be aware of, we’re still fighting for today, all these years later. I’m sure he can’t be happy about that.
WHAT DOES MARTIN LUTHER KING JR. MEAN TO YOU: Obviously he was a great person. He put a lot on the line and sacrificed a lot for the movement for African-Americans and just people in general in this country to make it a better place. It’s good to see the NBA and people all around the league paying respects to him.
WHERE WOULD THIS COUNTRY BE WITHOUT THE SACRIFICES HE MADE: Obviously he knew his life was in danger. People tried to burn his house down. He knew his life was in danger on a daily basis because of the stance he was taking and what he was trying to do in this country, but he never wavered in his commitment to the cause.
WHAT DO YOU THINK WOULD BE HIS THOUGHTS IF HE WERE ALIVE TODAY: I don’t think he would be happy with where (this country is) right now. Obviously we have a long ways to go as a country and as a place. But I think he probably would be proud to see some of the things that athletes and other people are doing to try to help the cause and make the country a better place.
WHAT DOES MARTIN LUTHER KING JR. MEAN TO YOU: The only thing I can say is he’s just inspirational, and (we’re) carrying on what he wanted. He saw a bigger picture. He looked into the future and saw where this nation and this world needed to go. So he just strived for equality for everybody, and I’m just thankful for him so I could be able to be here playing in Dallas, in this great league. He definitely paved the way for many African-Americans.
WHERE WOULD THIS COUNTRY BE WITHOUT THE SACRIFICES HE MADE: That just means whatever you want in life you’ve got to make sacrifices for it and you’ve got to not do some things that you want to do in order achieve what you want to achieve. I’ve learned from that. That’s how I got here. I sacrificed a lot and stayed the course when things aren’t going to go your way. Obviously for him, being thrown in jail, that’s different. Bad things happened to him, he stayed his course because he saw the future and what he wanted.
WHAT DO YOU THINK WOULD BE HIS THOUGHTS IF HE WERE ALIVE TODAY: He would probably say it’s definitely gotten a lot better. A lot of people would recognize him as one of those influential leaders that paved the way. But I feel like he still, even to this day, would probably be trying to fight for equality for everybody, not just for African-Americans.
WHAT DOES MARTIN LUTHER KING JR. MEAN TO YOU: He was a great public figure for us growing up learning about him at school and all he gave for this world. He’s one of the people where, if I could have three people that I could sit at the table and have a conversation with, he’s definitely one of the guys I’d like to have a conversation with.
WHERE WOULD THIS COUNTRY BE WITHOUT THE SACRIFICES HE MADE: He put his life on the line. He was fearless. He didn’t do it with violence. He just wanted to peacefully change the world. Bless him and I’m just thankful for everything he did.
WHAT DO YOU THINK WOULD BE HIS THOUGHTS IF HE WERE ALIVE TODAY: I think he would be happy for how much change has been since he was here. But there’s still a lot more that we can do.
WHAT DOES MARTIN LUTHER KING JR. MEAN TO YOU: He’s definitely a historical figure who was fighting for our rights. Our ability to do what we do today, I think, is heavily on him and the group that marched for our equality, and I don’t think we celebrate him enough. I think there’s more that we can do, but I think we need to educate ourselves more to find our heritage and find out where we came from.
WHERE WOULD THIS COUNTRY BE WITHOUT THE SACRIFICES HE MADE: He truly believed in what he was preaching. I don’t think a lot of us would be here and doing what we’re doing and living this fantastic life that we have without somebody like him that really fought for what he believed in.
WHAT DO YOU THINK WOULD BE HIS THOUGHTS IF HE WERE ALIVE TODAY: I think we always can do better, we always can strive to be better. I think he believed in that. I don’t think we can settle for where we are. We’ve got to grow together as a country.
WHAT DOES MARTIN LUTHER KING JR. MEAN TO YOU: He means a lot. For us to even be able to talk to each other right now, he means hope, he means progress. But it also means that we’ve got a lot of work to do, still, as a community and as a country.
WHERE WOULD THIS COUNTRY BE WITHOUT THE SACRIFICES HE MADE: Who knows? As a black man I’m thankful that he did (make those sacrifices). I’m thankful that all those who were involved did as well. It’s kind of crazy to say this, but he could foresee the future.
WHAT DO YOU THINK WOULD BE HIS THOUGHTS IF HE WERE ALIVE TODAY: I don’t really know how happy he would be, but we still have gone very far. And I’m very humble, very grateful for all the sacrifices that he and everybody that fought in the Civil Rights Movement — black, white — everybody that helped get us to this point, everybody that picked up the torch and continue to run with it. And again, it’s bigger than just black people. It’s black, white, everybody involved. But we’ve got a long ways to go. We can get there, but we’ve got to work, too.
WHAT DOES MARTIN LUTHER KING JR. MEAN TO YOU: He’s meant a lot. He did a lot of revolutionary things and he changed the way the country looks at different cultures. He meant a lot to the country, diversity-wise.
WHERE WOULD THIS COUNTRY BE WITHOUT THE SACRIFICES HE MADE: He made a lot of sacrifices, especially going the non-violent route. I think that’s just a testament to his character and everything he stands for, especially him going through all he went through and being able to stay non-violent. He gave his life for the cause, so that’s a testament to what type of character and the type of guy he was.
WHAT DO YOU THINK WOULD BE HIS THOUGHTS IF HE WERE ALIVE TODAY: He would probably be on the same route still trying to change things, still trying to make some strides to make the country even greater and make it even more equal than it is today. I think his work probably never stops. It’ll keep going and keep pushing.
WHAT DOES MARTIN LUTHER KING JR. MEAN TO YOU: He means a lot to me just knowing the history and knowing how much he’s done for African-Americans and young African-Americans like myself. Just the whole foundation of freedom and the rights that we’re deserving to have – going back to the slavery days. I’m really appreciative of everything he’s done. Malcolm X, Rosa Parks – the really iconic people. And the people that weren’t as iconic. So it’s all really something to be honored for.
WHERE WOULD THIS COUNTRY BE WITHOUT THE SACRIFICES HE MADE: You never really know how it could have been if he wasn’t in the position he was in. I think things were meant to be and he was meant to live for a purpose of just changing the culture of America in the ’60s, and he really stepped forward to be that face and really took all that punishment and all the backlash he did to put us where we are.
WHAT DO YOU THINK WOULD BE HIS THOUGHTS IF HE WERE ALIVE TODAY: I definitely say he’d say it’s progression. You look at it and you see young individuals like myself that weren’t as blessed as they were when he was alive, so it’s been a lot of progression. I think gains are being made, but there’s still a long ways to go. But I think as long as it’s a conversation and the gap is closing, we’re headed in the right direction.
WHAT DOES MARTIN LUTHER KING JR. MEAN TO YOU: He might be one of the most influential figures in our history. His legacy obviously lives on and the dream that he had is still something that we’re fighting for every day. He made a lot of change in this country for the better, and I think we — all around the world — are forever indebted to him for what he did. If the change didn’t take place when it did and how it did, I don’t think the opportunities that a lot of us have been provided in this generation would be available to us, just because the climate would be different and things would be different.
WHERE WOULD THIS COUNTRY BE WITHOUT THE SACRIFICES HE MADE: He set a great example as far as what it means to serve and what it means to be selfless and give up some of what a lot of people think is their right in life. He gave up a lot just to have his voice heard and he made a lot of sacrifices – him and his family. He took a lot of risks to make this world a better place. I think we can take that as an example of how to live life, which is to serve others and to be an example for the next generation and influence change where it’s needed, regardless of the price.
WHAT DO YOU THINK WOULD BE HIS THOUGHTS IF HE WERE ALIVE TODAY: I think he would be definitely happy in comparison to where (this country has) been, but he would still probably be fighting for continued progress and continued change. I think he would still be a major voice for the people and try to improve situations for minorities and for majorities and for everyone, really. I think he would be still fighting for progress.
WHAT DOES MARTIN LUTHER KING JR. MEAN TO YOU: “I think Martin Luther King is definitely a hero. Without Martin Luther King I wouldn’t even be in this position I am now to play in this league. Just the sacrifices that he made are very important to everybody, not just black people. I think (it’s important) to the entire world. He showed everybody what true equality means. He was a very just man. I don’t think just giving him one day is really celebrating how much he’s done for everybody.
WHERE WOULD THIS COUNTRY BE WITHOUT THE SACRIFICES HE MADE: A lot of that stuff, it’s hard to appreciate all of that. He’s one of the greatest men for our country’s history. I don’t think all his accomplishments can ever be fully appreciated. He died for this moment right here, for a lot of guys to be in unity.
WHAT DO YOU THINK WOULD BE HIS THOUGHTS IF HE WERE ALIVE TODAY: He would be thrilled. Of course, everything is not perfect. Racism is still alive, but just the strides that were made from then to now is incredible, and I think it’s in large part due to him. The world ain’t perfect yet – probably never will be. But if he was here today I’m sure he’d be happy with the strides that’s been made.