George Gervin, Suns Honor MLK Day

Barry Gossage/NBAE

George Gervin remembered his first experience affected by the wide-ranging impact of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The future Hall-of-Famer was 16 years old and, not surprisingly, playing basketball in Grosse Pointe, Michigan

Gervin’s mother called to her son, telling him to stop playing. Dr. King was in town and they were going to listen. He admits that, due to his age and its subsequent innocence, he was unaware of the immediate and future impact of the message the civil rights leader would have.

Now, at age 61, Gervin is all too aware and grateful.

“Forty, fifty years later, we’re still talking about Dr. King,” he said.

Sunday, hours before the Suns hosted the Denver Nuggets and a day before Martin Luther King Day, it was Gervin’s turn to talk about the man he’d seen all those years ago. The former ABA and NBA superstar known as the Iceman put aside his own legend to speak about a more wide-ranging one at the Suns’ second annual Martin Luther King Jr. Symposium.

“All he really wanted was equality for all people,” Gervin said.

It’s an equality Gervin saw come to a life of its own, to the point where the NBA has made it an annual celebration both on league-wide and team-specific levels. Before Sunday night’s tip-off, Suns point guard Ish Smith addressed the crowd by recognizing Monday’s holiday and the man behind it.

“His legacy lives on,” Smith told Suns fans.

Phoenix punctuated that fact with its pre-game symposium, which featured a panel discussion that included Gervin, Suns broadcaster Kevin Ray and former Suns center Steven Hunter.

At halftime, the Suns honored Susan Casper (ABC 15), Dr. Ann Hart (Arizona Department of Education) and Mary Black (Black Family and Child Services of Arizona) for “playing a significant role in the ongoing quest of equality for all.”

Gervin took it all in, recalling the day he first heard Dr. King speak, not knowing at the time he would be assassinated just a few months later.

“I’m real thankful for the Phoenix Suns to host this,” he said. “It tells you a lot about their organization and what Dr. King meant to the organization and the community.