Derrick Favors
(Zach Beeker | OKC Thunder)

For Favors, MLK Day Celebration Hits Close to Home

By Nick Gallo | Broadcast Reporter and Digital Editor |

When Thunder center Derrick Favors runs out onto the floor on Monday night in Dallas, he’ll be donning a warmup shirt developed by the NBA that pays homage to a specific moment in American history. 

With a script designed after the carrying signs held at a rally just days after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the shirts will read “NOW IS THE TIME TO MAKE JUSTICE A REALITY FOR ALL”, with “HONOR KING” on the back. During the NBA’s celebration of MLK Day, which features 12 games and 24 of the 30 teams in action, the focus will not only be on the basketball, but also on the legacy of King’s fight for equality. 

“It’s a special day, a special moment, a special game,” said Favors. “It’s an opportunity to come out there and remember what he represented, remember what he stood for and make that a great day to play basketball.”

While Dr. King’s legacy is honored across America and the NBA always places an extra emphasis on the day, for Favors the celebration hits a little closer to home, literally. As a standout at South Atlanta High School, Favors grew up less than 20 minutes away from Dr. King’s homes on Auburn Avenue and Sunset Avenue, Morehouse College which King attended as an undergraduate, Ebenezer Baptist Church where King served as a minister and Rich’s Department Store where King led a famous sit-in. 

When Favors matriculated to Georgia Tech for college, he was within 10 minutes of all those destinations. On MLK Day 2022, which lands two days after what would have been Dr. King’s 93rd birthday, those historic Atlanta landmarks are still revered. These days, there are also countless murals with his face and quotes on them, not to mention the King Center which is just steps away from Dr. King’s birth home and the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial Park, all within a short drive from where Favors grew up and spends time in the offseason. 

“Pretty much the whole of Atlanta is MLK,” Favors said with a smile. 

In the summer of 2020, the United States’ and the NBA’s commitment to a similar kind of justice that Dr. King fought for took on a renewed energy, sparking a dialogue that continues nearly two years later. The deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and the shooting of Jacob Blake created a crescendo that brought the desire for true equality under the law sharply into the forefront of hearts and minds throughout the country. Favors believes that it shouldn’t just be in the time of tragedy or on Dr. King’s birthday that the concept of justice be discussed. Instead, there ought to be obvious action undertaken throughout the year.  

“It shouldn’t take something that happened for everyone to bring up that conversation,” Favors said. “It's something that should always be up for talking about, for discussions, and hopefully we can keep improving and moving in the right direction.”

“It should be something that is always talked about and always thought about, and also something that people are doing, not just talking about,” said Favors. “Actions speak louder than words.”

Something tangible the Thunder organization has done is initiate the Thunder Fellows program, which took in its first cohort of Black high school students in Tulsa this past fall. The program seeks to enhance education and opportunity for Black students in the fields of data science and analytics. There’s a bent towards the sports and entertainment fields, featuring guest speakers from top-of-the-line companies like Google, HBO, Universal Music Group, Wilson Sporting Goods and even the Thunder’s basketball science department. 

Favors is focused on educating the next generation as well in the form of a cohort even closer to home than just the city of Atlanta – his three children. He recalls his own childhood in Atlanta, where Dr. King wasn’t just a school subject on the third Monday in January or during Black History Month but was a fixture of year-round reminders from elementary school on up. 

With twin daughters and a son all under the age of 8, Favors knows that there’s still some time before he’ll be able to truly impart Dr. King’s wisdom and message onto his kids, but he believes that to pursue a better tomorrow, Americans must remember what the best of our ancestors learned, and that those lessons from the past still hold relevance today.  

“As they get older, we'll start having those type of conversations and definitely make sure that they learn not only about MLK, but about all the good historical figures in the world and know what they meant, what they stood for,” Favors said.