The second-largest day of programming during the season next to Christmas Day (with 4 national games on TNT and NBA TV), the holiday is particularly meaningful for the NBA family’s diverse athletes and teams.
The Atlanta Hawks are not only one of the youngest teams in the NBA, but they are coached by 43-year-old Lloyd Pierce, one of just six African-American coaches in the 75 percent Black, 30-team league.
Diversity at the leadership positions is always a source of concern from African-Americans, but men like Lloyd represent the very change that MLK died for.
Pierce, a former teammate of Steve Nash at Santa Clara, rose up the coaching chain as an NBA assistant coach with the Cleveland Cavs, Golden State Warriors, Memphis Grizzlies and Philly 76ers, before taking over in ATL.
Coaching in a cultural hub such as Atlanta — which Time.com describes as both a “spatial and human embodiment of Atlanta’s paradoxical reputation for both strict racial segregation and black economic success — makes MLK Day especially significant for the Hawks organization and the many people who have benefitted from King’s Dream.
The Shadow League spoke with Atlanta Hawks coach Lloyd Pierce about the significance playing the defending NBA champion Toronto Raptors on MLK Day and more.
The Shadow League: What does playing on MLK Day, in the birthplace of MLK against the defending world champs, mean to you?
Coach Pierce: It doesn’t matter who we’re playing that Day it’s an honor to coach on MLK Day in Atlanta
I feel privileged… I coached in Memphis and was able to coach on MLK Day in that city and witness and see all the things that go on and the number of people that come into town to celebrate Dr. King. So I’m honored to be here in Atlanta and really go through the same experience.
I think it’s great that Atlanta gets to host the game. I’m excited just to share a little bit of Dr. King’s legacy with our team. I have a young daughter that is 17 months and eventually, I’ll be able to share a lot of messages that Dr. King provided for her.
Me being a head coach as an African American in the city of Atlanta, it’s the biggest example that I can show her. That starts with Dr. King’s legacy and message.
What kinds of messages do you give to your young team about MLK and going about celebrating his life and legacy?
Coach Pierce: My opportunity is because of Dr. King and what he fought for in terms of injustice and civil and social rights. He was fighting for others, not himself. He was fighting for his community, his city for a nation and he knew that his fight was going to lead to opportunities for other people and other generations.
So for our young guys, the messaging is just that. But this is a platform that we have and we want to find ways to use it appropriately off the court.
Coach Pierce has partnered with the Georgia Innocence Project (GIP), an independent non-profit organization that works to correct and prevent wrongful convictions in Georgia.
Why is this important to you, who came up with the idea to partner and how supportive has the Hawks organization been?
Coach Pierce: A lot of individuals – some paid and other volunteers – commit their time and energy to help others who really don’t have the resources to fight for themselves anymore. And that’s Dr. King’s legacy and message; fighting for others.
They are able to change a lot of things and overcome and help those wrongfully convicted through DNA testing, through witness testimony, false testimony… but it’s the same fight as King. Really fighting for others who don’t have that opportunity.
Coach Pierce: I was involved in speaking here in Atlanta at the National Convention for the Innocence Project and I think anyone who has ever walked into the room filled with exonerees…one lady spent 41 years in jail for a crime she didn’t commit… When you hear their stories, you feel their passion and joy of life now that they’re out and free, how could you not want to help?
The Hawks are last in the Eastern Conference at 10-33, what’s the focus for the remainder of the season?
Coach Pierce: I think the focus for us is always the growth and development of our starting lineup. I have a 20-year-old and two 21 and 22 years old. And so I’m not so much worried about the wins and losses, it goes without saying that we want to win every game we play.
But I’m more committed to getting better growth and developing chemistry and cohesion and realizing how hard it is to win in this league. I’m committed to these players and helping them get better on and off the court.
Has the youth of the team been your toughest challenge?
Coach Pierce: In any sport, you’re constantly teaching, whether you are a championship-caliber or a young team like us. The challenge is still on the court and every game presents itself differently. If you’ve won you understand you haven’t learned everything. The talent is in the competition and new challenges that present itself. The youth of our guys isn’t a challenge it’s just an understanding. I appreciate having a young team and having the opportunity to develop them.
According to a report you guys, Lakers and Sixers are the most talked-about team on Twitter. What’s the popularity come from is it attributed to Trae Young?
Coach Pierce: I would think so I’d imagine it starts there. He’s been extremely exciting for our team and league and he’s Top 5 in scoring and assists as a second-year player and that’s naturally going to garnish us attention in the national media. We knew we were going to build through the Draft and we are excited about the future.
How has Cam Reddish progressed in your opinion?
Coach Pierce: Sky’s the limit for him. He’s done a tremendous job defensively. We have pitted him against some of the top-scoring guards in our league and his challenge is to compete and make it tough for guys we know that can light it up at any point.
Coach Pierce: That’s really been his area he’s committed to at this point in his career. Just trying to find ways to help him offensively be more productive. I think he’s doing a good job of finding areas and spots to attack and be aggressive and also be a knockdown shooter.
The overall results have not been what we all would like but that’s not a knock on his confidence or the work he’s putting in. His understanding… and navigating through his first year, it’s only going to help him become a better player down the line. He’s a confident young man and a good worker and very easy to coach.
Vince Carter’s Career?
Coach Pierce: I think the biggest thing is you just see the longevity and consistency as a player and person. Anyone that plays as long as he has, 22 years, there’s got to be a lot of good luck, good fortune, hard work, and discipline.
Coach Pierce: A guy that was considered one of the greatest athletes to play this game has also become one of the greatest shooters to play this game. More importantly, he’s one of the best teammates and that’s why he’s played as long as he’s had for so many organizations.
He’s always been a first-class act type of guy on and off the court and that’s one of the unique things about Vince as a player, person, family guy, and teammate and that’s what’s going to be mentioned the most when it’s his time to go into the Hall of Fame.