State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins teamed up with three New York Knicks legends Friday to discuss the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
The Zoom panel forum, which featured Earl “The Pearl” Monroe, John Starks and moderator Allan Houston, was held on what would have been King’s 92nd birthday.
Stewart-Cousins said she was 18 when King was assassinated on April 4, 1968 while standing on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee.
“Dr. King didn’t start out to lead the movement at all. He never expected to be the Dr. King that we are still admiring and emulating today,” she said. “It is very clear what Dr. King fought for and died for is still an issue. It’s over 50 years but we are still not there yet.”
Monroe, 76, a key member of the 1973 Knicks championship team, was named Rookie of the Year in 1968, a day before King was shot. To pay his respects, Monroe said he wore a black patch on his uniform the next season and read passages from King’s speeches before every game.
“His passing for me was quite dramatic. He was the type of person who had humility and cared about his fellow man,” Monroe said. “He was inclusive—the movement wasn’t all about him. Injustice is out there and that’s the name of the game. It’s always time to do what is right. Maybe we’ll get another Dr. Martin Luther King one day because we certainly need it.”
Houston, 49, played nine seasons for the Knicks and was a member of the 1999 finals team. He is currently general manager of the Knicks G League affiliate, the Westchester Knicks.
“Dr. King once said faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase,” Houston said. “He fought for equality and equity for black Americans. He put a bold vision in front of people, and he lived it.”
Starks, 55, played eight seasons with the Knicks and was a fan favorite for his tenacity and grit. He played on the 1994 finals team that lost to the Houston Rockets. He works as an Alumni and Fan Development Advisor for the Knicks.
He said most of his knowledge of King came from textbooks and watching historical programs on television, but stressed he fully acknowledged the impact of what King stood for.
“His courage to stand in the face of death every time he left his house—he had no fear,” Starks said. “He knew he was going to make this a better place.”
Houston and Starks said they were proud of African American athletes today who aren’t afraid to use their celebrity platforms to speak about racial and other political issues.
“The work of a black person was always either a black entertainer or free labor,” Houston remarked. “Athletes are coming to realize if you can value me as a performer, when will you value me as a human being? This is above and beyond the game of basketball. This is about life.”
“Black athletes understand what this fight is about. They’re not sugarcoating it. These guys understand they are leaders,” Starks said. “It’s important that people understand we are all in this together.”