DENVER, CO - JANUARY 12: Richard Jefferson #22 of the Denver Nuggets grabs the rebound against the Memphis Grizzlies on January 12, 2018 at the Pepsi Center in Denver, Colorado.
Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images

Nuggets Reflect on What Martin Luther King Day Means to Them

by Christopher Dempsey
Nuggets Insider
@chrisadempsey

When Richard Jefferson was a kid, he was introduced to the spirit of service and giving championed by Dr. Martin Luther King through his parents, who were Christian missionaries.

“They went to Africa, and they went to Kenya and Tanzania,” Jefferson said. “I went when I was in second grade. You see your parents save money – maybe you might not have the things that you want – so they can go help people that have far less than you.”

Witnessing that had a profound impact on Jefferson. He was one of several Nuggets who talked on Monday about what Dr. King’s legacy means to them and how they are carrying his message on in their lives.

Here is what they said.

NUGGETS G WILL BARTON

Q: What does Martin Luther King Day personally mean to you?

A: It means a lot. Probably wouldn’t be playing in the NBA if it wasn’t for Dr. King. Where do you start with a man that stood for so much? He meant so much to so many people – the world, really. Really just spread love and equality. Can’t say enough about him.

Q: You spent a number of years in Memphis. Did you ever go to the Civil Rights Museum?

A: More than five times, really.

Q: What was the experience like?

A: Especially the first time, it was a bit overwhelming. It kind of gives you goosebumps to walk in there and see all of the things that we went through as a whole. Bringing back memories of some dark times and things that Dr. King helped reverse for us. Just like I said, spread a lot of equality and bringing people together.

Q: Why does the working in the community mean so much to you?

A: Just where I come from, growing up. I told myself, once I made it to the NBA I would do things like that because we didn’t have anyone doing that when I was coming up, so I wanted the kids to see something different, to be able to see success and give them hope.

NUGGETS COACH MICHAEL MALONE

Q: What does the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King mean to you?

A: Well, I think especially in today’s climate, it’s that much more important. When you have a president making some of the comments that he’s made, I think it’s so important to remember and honor the legacy of Dr. King – and what his message was. Simple but powerful: fight for equality, fight for the respect for everybody; white, black, male, female, it doesn’t matter. In today’s day and age with everything that we are going through in communities across the country from our leadership, I think that message is probably more prevalent and profound today and just as strong as it was in the 1960s when the Civil Rights movement was in its heyday.

Q: You have a number of thoughtful players on the roster. Speak to the character of the players on the team.

A: I think we have some mature, thoughtful, well-spoken individuals on our team. And I think we have a lot of guys that understand the responsibility they have and we have as an organization and as individuals to give back. What’s really important for people to understand is, the NBA season is a grind and there’s not many days off. And we have guys that are always doing things in the community – whether it’s at a Boys and Girls club, whether it’s going to a children’s hospital, whatever it is, giving back their time. The most important thing any of us can give anybody is your time. And take into account the amount of travel and responsibilities they have as NBA players, it makes it that much more impressive in my opinion, that our guys do it and do it willingly. They don’t do it begrudgingly, like ‘man, why do I have to be here.’ They understand the importance they have and the responsibility they have to represent this organization but also to represent themselves and to give back to the community whenever possible. So, I hope that everybody in our community in Denver appreciates that, because I think we have a special group of guys.

NUGGETS F RICHARD JEFFERSON

Q: What does this day and Martin Luther King mean to you?

A: I think everybody has a different personal meaning. I look at some of the things and the equality that Martin Luther King worked for. My mom, who was raising three boys on welfare in South Central L.A. in the mid-80s, she used government programs to not only get off of welfare, but to get her master’s degree, to get her bachelor’s degree, to get her doctorate in English, and she became a college professor. So, I look at how she used government programs, and how she used the system to raise herself. And you look at what Martin Luther King fought for – he fought for equality, he fought for those types of opportunities for people who might be in a negative situation, to work and have a chance to better themselves. And then I think about his message today, and one of his quotes says that the only real way to make a friend out of an enemy is with love. I think that message is something that everyone in our country today can take something from.

Christopher Dempsey: christopher.dempsey@altitude.tv and @chrisadempsey on Twitter