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Fourteen years ago this month, the Toronto Raptors were waging a turnaround for the ages, and Mike James, the Human Stat Sheet, was right in the thick of it.
Georgia’s own Sam Mitchell, in his second season as a first-time head coach, had a lot of work cut out for him. Coach Smitch had to work with two top-16 rookies, Charlie Villanueva and Joey Graham, along with a first-timer from Spain named Jose Calderon. He had a lottery pick Rob Babcock drafted from the year before, Rafa Araujo, to build up from the ground floor, and a second-rounder in Matt Bonner that was proving himself worthy of more playing time.
There were veterans for Mitchell to turn to, to be sure. But a vestige from a more lauded time, Morris Peterson, and the Net proceeds, Eric Williams and Aaron Williams, from Babcock’s failed trade of franchise star Vince Carter for Alonzo Mourning, were getting a bit too long in the tooth. That’s to say nothing of 33-year-old Jalen Rose.
One lottery pick had panned out -- a 21-year-old big, lean Texan out of Georgia Tech, Chris Bosh, that would soon be named an All-Star for the first time (All-Stars from losing teams? Madness!). Unfortunately, the remake of the Raptors around their newest young star had not been going well.
Toronto went winless in the first 9 games to start the 2005-06 season, then 1-15 by the end of November. Two days after Christmas, the Raps returned home from a loss in Detroit bearing a 6-22 record, forced to play a back-to-back with Joe Johnson’s similarly awful Hawks in town. That next day, the turnaround campaign began.
James, Bosh and Peterson carried the Raptors to victory that day, and again in their first game of the New Year in Atlanta. Those victories sparked a five-game streak that included big home wins over Dwight Howard’s Magic and ex-Raptor Tracy McGrady’s Rockets. The momentum resumed on the road in Seattle, with Rose pouring in 28 points to muffle the Sonics.
Two days later, it was halftime at STAPLES Center. Mike James was feeling pretty good about himself, already at 19 points, including makes of all 5 threes, and 9 assists. Up 63-49 on the once-mighty Los Angeles Lakers, this game was shaping up to be remembered as Mike James’ Night, the wayfaring 30-year-old’s overdue breakout on the NBA’s most star-studded stage, the evening his Raptors put their losing trajectory in the rear-view mirror, once and for all.
Kobe Bryant had other ideas.
Mitchell had few recourses but to contain Bryant with Rose, and the good news was it was working in the first half, since no other Lakers were scoring. The bad news was, Bryant would double his 26 points in the second half. Oh, scratch that, Bryant doubled that total before the end of the third quarter. 27 for Kobe in the third, 28 in the fourth, 81 for the game, as the Raptors, like everyone else watching around the world, seemed to forget there was another side to the floor.
For Kobe, coach Phil Jackson and the Laker Nation, this was a watershed moment at a transitional time. Memories of the Three-Peat era had waned, as were recollections of a Finals run with Gary Payton and Karl Malone that fell short of a ring. Shaq set off like a literal hot-air balloon, seeking to win titles with a fresher, more receptive shooting guard companion, Dwyane Wade, and former Laker legend Pat Riley in Miami.
Around Tinseltown, the Phil-Shaq-and-Kobe era was looking more and more like the Just Kobe era, even though The Zen Master had returned, one season after getting fired by his girlfriend’s father, to coach a star player he once deemed “uncoachable.” Having STAPLES’ superstar stage to himself without the gravity of Shaq, 81 points and a pair of assists was enough to overwhelm a shell-shocked Raptors club.
Certainly, though, Kobe was going to have trouble going forward as a ball-dominant guard against more nuanced defenses than what Mitchell and the Raptors could throw at him. Certainly, Bryant was going to be a hard sell, with his acerbic nature and cutthroat reputation, for the Lakers’ brass to woo other quality talents to play alongside “just” him.
It seemed reasonable, by this point, to assess that Kobe’s future involved chasing record books with personal stats, firming up Hall of Fame and jersey-retirement credentials, addressing his lagging off-court reputation after a sordid ordeal in Colorado, satisfying the growing legion of fantasy hoops aficionados, helping Team USA redeem the gold-medal world standing where Vince Carter had left them, and settling down with the knowledge that the birth of his second child was merely months away.
But unless he pulled a Shaq and demanded out of L.A., there was certainly no future involving Kobe that involved claiming another NBA championship trophy.
Kobe Bryant would have other ideas.
In the meantime, Toronto, post-81, was thrown for a loop. Within a week, the reeling Raptors sent Babcock packing, collaring Bryan Colangelo to help turn the franchise’s spiral. By the next week, Rose was on the outs, too, shipped to New York to bring back Antonio Davis for a Raptor rental.
The back end of the season for the Raptors, a 7-23 finish, consisted basically of Bosh staying healthy (he could not), and Mitchell enduring the Mike James Stat-Pad Variety Hour. Toronto’s turnaround had to wait for the next season, a franchise-tying 47-win season that brought back, for Raptor fans, hints of competitive days gone by with Vince Carter and coach Lenny Wilkens. Sadly for them, the gross errors of executives past were already being compounded by Colangelo.
The salve for the Raptors season that collapsed for good after Kobe’s 81 Game was one big “win,” leapfrogging four teams to win the top prize from the 2006 NBA Lottery. However, in a draft loaded with lottery minefields, Colangelo and the Raptors went with for biggest, well, at least, the tallest one, in Italy’s Andrea Bargnani. That pick had Toronto looking like a Leaning CN Tower. Standing tall in the NBA universe, but an already weathered symbol of monumental missteps.
The nation that brought us Naismith had already squandered one NBA franchise, the Raptors’ sibling expansion club Grizzlies relocating in 2001 after just six error-filled seasons in the western outpost of Vancouver. Yet even with the Raptors’ sad-sack reputation that lingered after 2007 and beyond, the sports fans, the citizenry, the governments and the sponsoring business community of Toronto remained all-in. It was largely this way because a Raptor from the bygone era, Vince Carter, left behind a foundation.
One could argue that Damon Stoudamire, the first-ever Raptor draft choice that also had a tumultuous exit, had as much to do with establishing Toronto as a legitimate basketball town from its infancy. But beyond Canada, Mighty Mouse was a mere curiosity. Vince was a tour-de-force that every NBA fan saw coming, from his high school years in Central Florida to his time in Chapel Hill, yet still couldn’t believe with their own eyes once he arrived.
By 2001, two team’s purple NBA jerseys were in hot demand around the world. One was from a blue-blood franchise in a major American market that had hauled in a dozen NBA titles and was preparing to grab a couple more. The other was from a team that hadn’t existed a decade prior, and occasionally still featured a basketball-dribbling dinosaur.
That the latter jersey bore the letters, TORONTO, and gave buyers pride rather than pause, was immensely valuable in locking the Raptors down in town. That jersey #15 belonged to an American-born player who welcomed being known as “Air Canada” proved a boon for the city’s and country’s sports economy.
The Raptors’ current leader in scoring average, Vince graces the court formerly known as Air Canada Centre, now Scotiabank Arena, for likely the penultimate time today as a member of the Hawks (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, SportsNet One in TOR). He celebrated the early part of his 43rd birthday on Sunday. By afternoon, though, it became obvious that this and ensuing birthdays for Carter would be dates shared with somber remembrances, of the untimely passing of one of his greatest basketball peers.
Until the latest news got around, about petitioners trying to replace the NBA’s logo with Kobe’s, I had to think hard to recall what either Kobe’s or Vince’s logo even looked like. As is the case with Trae Young’s initials-merger thingy, I’m sure sneaker company marketers have foisted something upon everybody in the pros by now. Guys like MJ, Shaq, Jerry West can simply point to a single silhouette. Kobe or Vince never needed a silhouette, or a logo for that matter.
Explosive, finishing plays were enough to sear Carter and Bryant as symbols in our minds. The best-ever preseason dunk. Best-ever in-game (and Olympic) dunk. Best-ever contest slam, which may or may not involve a rim hang. Best-ever dunk over a future Rookie of the Year, best-ever dunk over a reigning MVP. Best-ever dunk over a probably retiring Hall of Famer. Best-ever lob dunk to clinch a playoff series.
Kobe’s iconic persona also became marketable, once he was able to wrap up his NBA career and pursue his many post-retirement endeavors. It’s great to Be Like Mike, but Bryant dared anyone he encountered to strive to Be Better Than Kobe, in some fashion.
Bryant felt that competition, in its undistilled form, makes the world go ‘round. Resistance creates sparks. If you weren’t competing with him and his team, if you weren’t competing ON his team, if you were not challenging him in some meaningful way, he wasted little time associating with you. He redirected his aim to become the best basketball competitor, toward becoming the best sports analyst, the best entrepreneurial philosopher, the best filmmaker, the best father. And he only wanted to associate with people who dared to be better, which required commitment to become better than their own selves every day.
You have all likely had a conversation, with someone a generation older or younger than yours, or with a colleague of a wholly different background, that goes like this:
“Aww, wow, just saw the news that (Mean Gene Okerlund / Nipsey Hussle / Neil Peart / Toni Morrison) just died.”
“Darn, rest easy… wait, who was (Mean Gene / Nipsey / Neil / Toni)?”
“WHO WAS ((Repeat their full names here))??? Uggh! I can’t even!”
Such a convo was not held on Sunday. Not a single soul had to explain to anyone who Kobe Bryant was, what he had accomplished, or why his passing was a gut punch on multiple fronts. Carter made that observation to media yesterday, after Atlanta’s emotional 152-133 victory over Washington, as people around him of every age range had similar heartfelt reactions to the story as it was developing. The death of Bryant, his daughter Gigi, and their associates hit Hawks coach Lloyd Pierce and Hawks #24, Bruno Fernando (doubtful for tonight, calf strain) much the same way.
Players who weren’t born when Vince and Kobe were rivals at the AAU level. People who were well grown, if not mature, and tracked both players, even through the summertime scrimmages when both were teens, as debates flared on “the next MJ” within the prep-school pipelines. People who dedicated their athletic lives to becoming “the next Vince,” or “the next Kobe,” charting their ups and downs throughout their careers. People that never so much as dribbled a basketball in their natural lives. All needed at least a minute to gather themselves and consume the tragic news.
Kobe saw to it that people felt some kind of way about him, whether he met them or not. He could be one of two things to you. Your undying hero, the embodiment of what unquenchably competitive fire, when applied the right way, could forge. Or, the bane of your existence, the person who takes great pride in thwarting what you hoped would be your, or your favorite team’s, successful destiny. Your inspiration, or your foil, it’s your choice. He could occasionally be both. He would not possibly accept becoming anything else.
The bi-coastal, multi-national impact of Kobe’s ascension into our basketball consciousness is evident just with a glimpse into Toronto’s climb from annually going through motions to world championship contention.
Vince Carter is the Raptors’ per-game scoring leader, but the current all-time points leader is a young man from Compton, California, and USC, who was not yet 11 when Kobe and Shaq began their three-peat. DeMar DeRozan was told in 2018 by the Raptors’ English-born executive with Nigerian roots, Masai Ujiri, that he envisioned DeRozan could one day become the Raptors’ Kobe. “For (Ujiri and the Raptors) to say I could be in (Kobe’s) position – it was an honor accepting that fully,” he shared with ESPN at the time.
The Compton kid embraced Toronto fully, guiding the Raptors into playoffs and conference finals, until Ujiri saw the opportunity for an upgrade. Out went DeRozan that same year. In came someone a couple years younger from Riverside, California, and San Diego State, who closely watched not only all the Laker titles of the 2000s, not only the Finals MVP awards, but Bryant’s 12 All-Defensive Team seasons. Kawhi Leonard returned to L.A. last summer to continue his pro career, but not before he completed his mercenary mission by leading the Raptors to their first NBA championship.
The Raptors point guard feeding both DeRozan and Leonard the ball through those seasons? A kid from Philadelphia, born and raised, who idolized and followed Kobe, the local high school hoops legend ten years his senior.
Kyle Lowry is 9 dimes away from passing Calderon for the all-time Raptors team record. He just happened to be in San Antonio, where the Raptors ended their own decade-plus drought (12 years) on Sunday night to extend their season-high seven-game winning streak, and had DeRozan coming across the court to share a mournful postgame embrace.
DeRozan, Leonard, Lowry. Norman Powell, a San Diegan and UCLA alum who proudly wears #24. All Kobe-inspired. Each of these players’ greatest NBA moments could just as well have occurred while wearing a K.C. Raptors, or a Louisville Raptors jersey. But this team, now with sustained success (NBA-best 21 straight winning months), is anchored, economically, emotionally, in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, a certified NBA city. That’s because Vince Carter (3rd all-time in NBA games played with an appearance today, tying Dirk Nowitzki) came along at the right time.
It wasn’t always this way in this city, but you can rest assured Toronto will give Living Legends like Vince their roses while they are here.
Let’s Go Hawks!
The Pause That Refreshes.
(2:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast, 92.9 FM in ATL, SportsNet One in TOR)
“You all need to decide...”
55 years ago this month, one of Atlanta’s greatest citizens had turned 36 years of age. One month prior, he was in Norway, with the Nobel Prize for Peace being bestowed upon him.
What had become, during the 20th century, the world’s most renowned accolade, was granted to this unelected, non-politician, non-official young adult. The 14th American, the second African-American, and the youngest human to that point, ever to be a singular Laureate.
“First person in the Western world,” noted the Norwegian Nobel Committee of the soon-to-be 36-year-old minister, writer, orator and activist, “to have shown us that a struggle can be waged without violence.” That’s deep.
He was the first Georgian, and the first Atlantan to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. In the ensuing weeks, the prosperous members of his native city’s civic, religious and political community needed to decide how it wanted to collectively honor him.
More specifically, Atlanta needed to decide IF it wanted to collectively honor him. Like, at all.
Since the resurrection of the city in the aftermath of the Civil War, Atlanta has long prided itself by its civic boosterism, its ability to build business, to sustain business, to excel in business, its prominent leaders in academic, social, political, and religious life geared to promote prosperous local commerce, like no other city in the New South could.
Economic competition, above all else, propelled the movers and shakers of Atlanta into fervent daily action. How remarkable it was, then, as 1964 was turning into 1965, that the white-collar movers and shakers of the city that surged from the ashes like a phoenix, found themselves shaken to the point of inertia. By the daunting prospect of hosting and attending the city’s first-ever multiracial formal dinner.
You wouldn’t know it, today, by the drab parking deck and Dunkin’ Donuts that sits in its place along Forsyth Street, in the Fairlie-Poplar neighborhood that sits a stone throw away from State Farm Arena. But the center of Atlanta prestige at that time was the Dinkler Plaza Hotel, formerly the Hotel Ansley before a prominent family-run hotel chain took over in the 1950s.
Since its opening in 1913, proclaiming itself proudly as open to “every Southerner,” as a “home to all Georgians visiting Atlanta”, the only thing allowed to be black at Hotel Ansley were the tie events. Persons of color were barred from the hotel, including the first African-American to receive the Nobel Prize. He was a diplomat and delegate who helped the United States mediate between Egypt and Israel and form the United Nations in the 1940s. But for Ralph Bunche, seeking a quality room in 1962, Atlanta’s Dinkler Plaza was always too booked to serve him, or anyone remotely looking like him.
Less than two years after spurning Bunche, and one year after proudly hosting a White Citizens’ Council meeting featuring segregationist governors George Wallace and Marvin Griffin, the Dinkler was approached by Rabbi Jacob Rothschild, Archbishop of Atlanta Paul Hallinan, and Mayor Ivan Allen to host a gala in their city’s largest banquet hall for Atlanta’s own, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. What to do? What to do?
Some of that kind of “decision-making” was suddenly being taken out of businessmen’s hands, here and elsewhere. Just three days after Dr. King’s Nobel Lecture in Oslo, “The Quest for Peace and Justice,” the Supreme Court of the United States issued a ruling against a downtown motor lodge around the corner from Dinkler Plaza.
A motel that humorously branded itself the “Heart of Atlanta” needed white men in black robes to confirm for them the Commerce Clause of the Constitution was not overstepped by Congress’ passage of 1964’s landmark Civil Rights Act. Proudly welcoming “every Southerner,” it turns out, means you’re willing to engage in and profit from interstate commerce, so Federal laws apply.
Yes, black citizens and visitors could finally stay in Atlanta hotels and motels, in America’s hotels and motels, without reservation, with a mere reservation. That didn’t mean the hotel owners had to like it. Now, this town’s prestigious Dinkler Plaza was being asked to host a celebration for one of the Civil Rights Act’s most noteworthy advocates? And a black citizen, at that?
What was happening in this era, forged by King and a growing array of civil and human rights leaders, was the decoupling of “peace” from “order,” establishing through law and spirit a linkage instead between “peace” and “justice.”
Maintaining “order” requires instilling a centuries-long culture of fear and violence, a world where cruelty, whips, lynching, rocks, nightsticks, bullets, fire and bombs buttress societal subjugation and dominance. In that culture of fear, all of that is necessary for some to feel “at peace.” It becomes a matter of convenience to love one’s neighbor as one loves oneself, when you are empowered, through “order,” to assess and enforce who your neighbor can and cannot be.
Promoting “justice” requires a basis of unconditional love and nonviolence, a world where handshakes, thoughtful words, selflessness, fairness, critical thinking and sincere hearts open infinitely more doors than they close. In that culture of love, a world of just deeds is engendered where the pen is, indeed, mightier than any sword could ever hope to be.
For their roles in helping oversee and encourage the successful Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1955-56, Rev. King’s and Rev. Ralph David Abernathy’s home were firebombed, along with several black Baptist churches, by the actors of “order.” King took great pains to remind his anguished supporters not to seek retaliation, compelling and inspiring with the application of Biblical scripture.
“We must love our white brothers, no matter what they do to us,” Rev. King pleaded. “We must make them know that we love them. Jesus still cries out in words that echo across the centuries, ‘Love your enemies; bless them that curse you; pray for them that despitefully use you.’… We must meet hate with love. Remember, if I am stopped, this movement will not stop, because God is with the movement.”
In a culture of fear reinforcing “order”, not looking like intended subjugates is insufficient to shield a supporter of the suppressed. Unnerved by racial injustice in Alabama and elsewhere, Rothschild convened in the 1950s with Christian clergy and prominent black leaders, like Morehouse University president Benjamin Mays, to broker a peaceful path as the city of Atlanta faced the realities of court-compelled desegregation.
While the resultant “Ministers’ Manifesto,” calling for peaceful interracial negotiation and obedience to the law, could not be signed by him due to its heavy Christian language, the rabbi published his own endorsement of the ministers’ appeal in the local newspapers and Congressional record. Those words made Rothschild, like King and Abernathy, a target for the actors of “order,” as a series of death threats, and then 50 sticks of dynamite in his Hebrew Benevolent Congregation Temple, would make clear in 1958.
Actors in the culture of fear take solace in the thought that, no matter their circumstances in life, someone different than them, by way of how, where, or in what circumstances they were born, is and shall always be beneath them. Many draw their inspiration from those of their past who resorted to organized violence and callousness to seize whatever exclusive graces the bequeathed enjoy in their present day.
Sharing any such graces is the relinquishing of what makes such actors feel special, predestined, a cut above. As the projected fear of getting usurped by outside forces binds the actors of “order,” they resort to tools of violence and intimidation. Their targets are the “agitators” of their sense of order, be it a fellow like King, or one like Rothschild.
Those actors of ill-intent hoped to incite fear, but the 1958 explosion instead furthered a bond of love that spanned faiths and skin colors. Steeled by his principled stances, members of Rothschild’s congregation at The Temple took local leadership positions easing, for example, the peaceful integration of Atlanta’s public schools, which began in 1961.
He would not yet know he would be delivering Dr. King’s eulogy less than four years later, but in late 1964, Rothschild, working with Mays and Hallinan, would be chief organizer and master of ceremony on behalf of the Nobel Prize winner. If only he and Mayor Allen could encourage Atlanta’s movers and shakers to host and attend the proposed event.
Facing legal pressure, Dinkler Plaza relented, and the date and time were set. But no one was RSVP’ing, least of all the city’s business leaders. To them, the “agitators” in town were not people sneaking around bombing things, menacing people at public swimming pools, chasing people off luncheonette counters. No, the “troublemakers” were people like Dr. King himself, getting arrested at Rich’s Department Store, picketing alongside striking workers at Scripto Pen Company. They thought: Can’t that man just stick to schools, drinking fountains, and bus terminals? What’s next? Where will it end?
When King spoke of “Injustice anywhere…”, he meant it. It was certainly not lost on him about the ongoing struggles for fair labor practices and conditions throughout the country. Including in January 1964, when the fledgling National Basketball Association, minutes away from presenting their All-Star Game on national television for the first time, faced the threat of all 20 players, black and white, striking if the owners did not acquiesce to recognizing the newly formed, pension-fighting players’ union.
Whether you were Bill Russell, or Tom Heinsohn, it didn’t matter in Dr. King’s mind, if your injustices were being willfully ignored. Whether you were a high-achieving professional athlete in Boston, a soldier following questionable directives in Vietnam, or a striking sanitation worker in Memphis, chances are good you were inspired by Dr. King. Even if you weren’t, Dr. King, his family and his followers would be inspired by you.
His all-encompassing advocacy was roiling the business community, who worried about the effect of bad press – more on that in a minute – on business relations well beyond Atlanta. Whether they were segregationists at heart or not, whether they understood it or not, the culture of fear still enveloped The City Too Busy To Hate.
The culture of fear strikes at not only the hearts of subordinates, their advocates, and the perpetrators, but the perpetuators as well. Attendance by prominent white locals at the upcoming banquet was feared as a tacit acquiescence of Dr. King’s activism. No matter the feelings or misgivings about the Court rulings favoring civil rights over the prior ten years, it wasn’t the men in the *black* robes giving them pause.
Especially in the aftermath of The Temple bombing, many white business leaders feared what smoldering might await them if they were so much as perceived to align with King. Facing the very culture of fear meant for them to thrive in, the prevailing view was that it was wise to decline any invitation requests, staying silent on the matter if at all possible, in hopes it would all blow over, in hopes of what they believed was “peace,” for the sake of good “order.” As we say in modern parlance, they didn’t want none of that smoke.
Among the most prominent civic leaders was Robert Woodruff, who took over The Coca-Cola Company in 1926 and transformed its signature beverage product, its packaging, and the company itself into items of global renown. Writing a letter, banquet organizers hoped Woodruff, Atlanta’s most successful former chief executive, would help spur local leaders to abdicate their reluctant positions. There was no response from his office.
Not a peep. Not much until after, “Tribute to Dr. King Disputed in Atlanta,” published shortly before New Year’s Eve by the New York Times. In this nation’s paper of record, the article cited the cool reception for the Nobel Peace Prize winner from so-called progressive business leaders, and it reported on an unnamed bank executive working behind the scenes in hopes of undermining the event.
In Atlanta, we love to profess not seeing color. But anytime a bad look from the press threatens to cut off the city’s pipeline of green, this town’s boosters see red.
Mayor Allen sought out the Coca-Cola patriarch at his remote Newton, Georgia plantation to plead for his assistance. Woodruff dispatched his new Coke CEO, Paul Austin, to be the heavy on his behalf at a hastily convened meeting at the Piedmont Driving Club, the private common ground for the elite among Atlanta’s white elite.
As Andrew Young noted, Austin was a Georgia native, but spending over a decade in South Africa before returning to Coca-Cola made it clear to him how the ways of “order”, in the form of apartheid, were (not) working for them. At the Piedmont meeting, Young recalled that Austin looked Atlanta’s leaders in the eyes and made it plain, in term$ they could understand:
“It is embarrassing for Coca-Cola to be located in a city that refuses to honor its Nobel Prize winner. We are an international business. The Coca-Cola Company does not need Atlanta. You all need to decide whether Atlanta needs the Coca-Cola Company.”
Within hours of Austin’s reported ultimatum on behalf of Woodruff, the honorary event had its sponsors aligned, and its tickets sold. 55 years ago next week, the gala went off with hardly a hitch. Black and white citizens enjoying a celebratory feast together, in 1965? Peacefully? Who knew such a thing was possible? /s
Things go better with Coke. Also around this town, things have gone better with Delta Airlines. That Southern-based company had already moved from Monroe, Louisiana to Atlanta in the 1940s, flying the corporation directly over Public “Safety” commissioner Bull Connor’s Birmingham along the way. But when the time came in the 1950s to establish an international hub to reach South and Central American destinations, Alabama’s largest city, virtually equivalent in size to Atlanta and the “Pittsburgh of the South” due to its dominant iron, steel, and manufacturing industries, and its airport was back in play.
Birmingham and its host state could not woo Delta’s hub from Atlanta mayor William Hartsfield’s grasp. Not while Alabama cities were gaining negative reputations outside the state under the grip of Governor Wallace, hardening their segregationist stances in the face of Brown v. Board. Atlanta leaders presented a more welcoming, tolerant face, and being in the same time zone as New York and D.C. didn’t hurt, either.
Desegregation in Atlanta was happening, if not happily and swiftly, with less government-sanctioned violent resistance, and that positively impacted reputations, and commerce. By 1963, to accommodate a new black senator and his pages, newly elected Georgia governor Carl Sanders ordered the “White” and “Colored” signs above fountains and restrooms to come down. Sanders did the principled thing without fanfare, simply recalling later that he “went ahead and did what I knew what the law said to do.” Meanwhile, he boasted, “George Wallace was over in Alabama, standing in the schoolhouse door.”
If you’re looking to grow your business interests, climate can be a huge deal, and not just the temperature and rainfall. Repercussions of the paths “A City Too Busy To Hate” and the city that became known as “Bombingham” chose with their respective social climates are clearer over fifty years later. That goes far beyond Delta’s decision to help grow the World’s Busiest Airport here, or Coke’s decision to keep its roots here, or United Parcel Service’s decision to move to our sprawling metropolis in the 1990s.
When the nation’s largest professional sports leagues decided to expand and relocate into the South in the 1960s and 1970s, Atlanta made itself the obvious choice. When America’s Olympic Committee wanted to pursue a Centennial Games that showcased the growth of the New South, the locale decision was made easy. When we want to fly to Peru, or Peoria, when we want to catch a MLB, NFL, or NBA game, we don’t have to haul it over to Alabama.
It’s not just the dominant economic foothold that a landlocked Atlanta metro gained ahead of its Southern peers, with its Top-20 global economy (based on GDP) today hosting 16 Fortune 500 company headquarters (including Coke), 4th-most in the country. It’s the reputation of Atlanta’s enterprises that stands out as well. Last week, the AJC reported a survey finding that among the top-ten most trusted brands, three are right here in the ATL (Chick-fil-A, UPS, and The Home Depot).
Our local leaders in business, faith and governance are far from perfect. But when they stub their toes on matters of civil and human rights, be it the police department or CFA or Atlanta Spirit Group, you can bet Atlantans will give them earfuls, in an assertive but nonviolent way, until they decide to evolve. It’s the culture we chose long ago, one that happens to keep us relatively prosperous and economically competitive, a culture prompted by Dr. King and propagated by our civil rights leaders.
(photos via Jameelah Johnson, @JameelahJNBA on Twitter)
It is not lost on Coach Lloyd Pierce and the Atlanta Hawks organization that we should offer our local legends their roses while they are here.
The scars from John Lewis forehead remain visible from a skull fracture he sustained as a 25-year-old in Selma on during the 1965 March to Montgomery, one of many injuries he sustained as a young Freedom Rider and marcher for justice. Co-founder with King of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the Reverend Joe Lowery was crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge as well.
In Florida, St. Augustine was the scene when Andrew Young was leading demonstrators downtown and to a still-segregated motor lodge swimming pool (the one where the motel owner infamously poured acid into the pool in hopes of scaring off the protestors, and a cop jumped in to arrest the swimmers), when he was attacked by angry, racist mobsters. As was the case in Selma, Young was jailed in St. Augustine, where the police allowed members of the mob to come into the jail to assail the demonstrators further.
They protested, suffered, and proceeded, undaunted. When presented the choice to succumb to the wills of the actors of fear, with their livelihoods and those of their loved ones under persistent threat, with much more to personally lose than just Coca-Cola, they flatly declined. These heroes and many others continued to push Dr. King’s ideals of The Beloved Community, both alongside him through the end of King’s life, and beyond, here in Georgia and throughout America and the world.
“Our goal is to create a Beloved Community,” Dr. King wrote, “and this will require a qualitative change in our souls as well as a quantitative change in our lives.” Atlanta and the world beyond benefits both qualitatively and quantitatively by the rippling effects of our civil rights leaders’ resolve.
“We have a choice today: nonviolent coexistence, or violent co-annihilation,” King would later state as America lurched yet again toward international conflict. “This may well be mankind’s last chance to choose between chaos and community.” Every day, in many ways, our local, national, and global society is presented with a similar choice. Atlanta’s prize-winning peace advocate, Dr. King, offered us a means to choose wisely, to choose better, for everyone’s benefit.
A culture of love, nonviolence and justice, or a culture of fear, violence and loathing? We all have to decide.
Happy MLK Day! Let’s Go Hawks!