On Sunday (March 7), the NBA hosts the 70th All-Star Game at State Farm Arena in Atlanta. Unlike past iterations of the storied event, this one will be vastly different. Instead of an entire weekend, all activities will take place Sunday because of COVID-19 restictions to ensure the safety of everyone involved.
As part of a new initiative, the NBA has pledged $3 million in support of HBCUs and communities impacted hardest by the coronavirus pandemic. In addition, on Sunday, the NBA will pay tribute to HBCUs by spotlighting their students and alumni through the Michelob Ultra Courtside virtual fan experience, student artwork, in-arena activations, merchandise and partnerships.
To highlight the NBA’s work with HBCUs, BET.com spoke to the NBA’s Chief People and Inclusion Officer Oris Stuart about the high value of an HBCU educational experience, the challenges brought on by the pandemic, and why the NBA feels obligated to stand for these particular social justice initiatives.
BET.com: As Chief People and Inclusion Officer of the NBA, what are some of your responsibilities?
Oris Stuart: I oversee all matters related to our talent and our human capital globally, to ensure everyone is working in an environment where they can do their best work. I make sure that we get the best people to represent the diversity of our fanbase which is central to our success as an organization. I also have the privilege of being involved in a host of the things that we do as an organization that represents our commitments to social justice, equity, and fairness in society by using our voice and our platforms.
BET.com: Of all the professional sports leagues, the NBA has a history of being a trailblazer when it comes to issues of racial equality. Can you speak to why the NBA believes these commitments are important?
Stuart: Well, I would say that it runs deep in our DNA. We've had lots of trailblazers throughout the history of the league. I was able to pick up five and a half years ago on a foundation of commitment and belief in fairness, equality, and inclusion. The game of basketball itself is inclusive. You can access our game as a player, an athlete, or as a fan. No matter who you are, where you live, what your background is, what your demographic profile is, fully able-bodied, if you have physical limits, your gender identity or anything else, you can have access to our game. So, we believe that we need to live up to the inclusive nature of the game.
BET.com: Chris Paul has been an ambassador for HBCUs. Was it his idea to spotlight HBCUs on All-Star Sunday?
Stuart: As you already mentioned, Chris Paul’s commitment to HBCUs runs deep. There are many examples of how he demonstrated it and he plays a pivotal role as president of the NBA Basketball Players Association. As we were talking about the opportunity to host an All-Star game in this very unique environment, it didn't take long for the idea of supporting and shining a bright light on HBCUs to come up. When the idea was brought up, everyone rallied around it.
We’re attempting to go beyond just the idea of supporting HBCUs but truly integrating the HBCU experience, and the history of their contributions into all aspects of what's going to happen on Sunday. So I couldn't be happier that it came up and really thrilled about how this all is coming together.
BET.com: How is the NBA working with Atlanta's Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms to ensure safety protocols are followed?
Stuart: This is a TV-only event and I can't emphasize that enough. The pandemic has affected all communities across the country but it has been particularly challenging for communities of color communities that are largely represented in Atlanta, and in so many other parts of the country.
We have supported Mayor Bottoms’ call for people to not travel into town and she is a tremendous leader during a difficult time.The NBA will not be hosting any events and activities will be in the arena, by invitation only. COVID-19 has been so devastating to communities of color and Black communities, and we want people to stay safe. We want to do our part to make sure this happens.
BET.com: Lastly, following All-Star weekend, are there plans for any future partnerships with the NBA and HBCUs?
Stuart: Thirty-three years ago, the NBA entered into a partnership with the Thurgood Marshall College Fund and are founding members. That relationship will continue to grow and flourish. We have a new relationship with the United Negro College Fund, we look forward to that continuing as well. These institutions are so important to our country and to the world and their contributions show up in so many amazing ways. In the future, we'll be establishing more opportunities to deepen these partnerships and continue this work.
The NBA All-Star game airs on Sunday, March 7th, at 5 p.m EST on TNT.