The Naismith Basketball Hall of Famer and NBA 75th Anniversary team member spoke with Yahoo Sports senior NBA writer Vincent Goodwill about the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the league’s celebration of the civil rights leader.
VINCENT GOODWILL: Welcome here to Yahoo Sports. I'm Vince Goodwill here with NBA Naismith Basketball Hall of Famer, one of the handful of greatest players of all time, Oscar Robertson. Oscar, thank you for joining us today.
We're right on the eve or approaching the eve of MLK Day, which is a special day around the NBA. It's a special day for this country. Did you have any personal dealings with Dr. King while he was still alive and you were playing? Did you have any personal recollections?
OSCAR ROBERTSON: Only through some ministers that I knew in Cincinnati who were very close to Dr. King. I never met Dr. King individually myself. The vision that Dr. King had in order to bring this country to a better place for everybody and for Blacks to get a piece of the pie, man. We're achieving that, but we're not there yet. But we're on the way.
VINCENT GOODWILL: Absolutely. And as far as the NBA, what the NBA is doing as far as the grand celebration that they do when they commemorate Dr. King, how do you feel about that personally? Does it feel so very far away? Like for someone of a younger age, he's someone who you hear about in history books. He's not this figure that you could touch and feel and hear in real time. Does it feel that far away for you personally? Or does it feel like something that's very vivid, and it doesn't feel like the passage of time has been so much, so far rather?
OSCAR ROBERTSON: Well, it feels like it's far way because of what's going on right now in the country. I mean, look at all this stuff. It's almost unbelievable. But I'm so glad that we do this, because we should know our history. I mean, now, I hope we can read about this in history about Dr. King. But I don't know if it's going to be able to do that or not.
But he was such a person who thought of doing this nonviolently. I mean, can you imagine? I mean, I know guys that I grew up with, man. They were not going to do anything nonviolently. They were tough individual people who would fight to take care of themselves. And I'm sure there were a lot in the country like that, as you can see there were a lot of groups around. And they didn't care for Dr. King's words.
VINCENT GOODWILL: Absolutely. And when you look at some of the things the NBA has done in this short time over the past couple of years when you see the players being more active, being more vocal, there was a time where that didn't happen. Are you heartened to see players take more of an active side socially, civically? Were you surprised to see that when everything was going on? And how do you just feel about the state of athlete activism as a whole?
OSCAR ROBERTSON: I'm very heartened to see that, because to be honest, when I played, you couldn't do those things. In Cincinnati, you couldn't do them because you couldn't hardly get anything written good about Black people unless you did something. If you played well, they'll write about you.
But people today have to understand that there's a different thing going on. Look at what players have done and how have they've gotten together to organize and do these things. Organization means a lot. It's something that, years ago, they didn't want Black people to even read a book, man. But I think players today are much more intelligent as far as the ways of the world than they were years ago and about what's going on and whatnot.