Hawks’ 2020-21 City Edition uniforms honor MLK

The Hawks’ new City Edition uniforms will honor the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., who was born and raised in Atlanta.

King’s initials, “MLK,” will be front and center on the jersey, marking the first time in league history the initials of an individual will be featured prominently on the chest of an official uniform. The Hawks will donate profits from jersey sales back to the Atlanta community, focusing on economic empowerment for communities of color.

The unveiling has been nearly three years in the making — though no one could have predicted the current civil unrest in the country, the message of the civil-rights icon and the meaning behind the uniform carry additional weight now, per Hawks chief marketing officer, Melissa Proctor.

“No one could have ever anticipated that the world, that we would be in the current state, as we are, as a country, and so we really thought that we’re obviously going to be unveiling it as we have our City Edition, but the sentiment of the uniform is at a completely different level than we could have ever anticipated at the time of development,” Proctor said. “Always important, obviously, for Dr. King and the city.”

The Hawks will wear their City Edition uniforms at select games during the season, and also will have a court design to go with them. Those games will be looked at as “unity nights,” and on them the Hawks will highlight King and people making a difference in the Atlanta community.

“Through these unity games, there’s a number of different areas, not just around Dr. King, but really focusing on the Atlanta community and looking at community leaders who are out there doing things to help unite our city and that are doing amazing things around economic empowerment,” Proctor said.

Inforgraphic details the symbolism in the Atlanta Hawks' 2020-21 City Edition, uniform paying tribute to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

Credit: Atlanta Hawks

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Credit: Atlanta Hawks

The uniform’s base color is infinity black, with the initials “MLK” in fidelity white and outlined in vintage gold. Vintage gold and fidelity white also make up the piping around the edges of the jersey and the waistband of the shorts. The colorway of black, gold and white also represents King’s membership in the first Black Greek fraternity.

Churches where King preached largely inspire the uniform. The overall silhouette of the uniform, with the striping of white and gold leading to a tapered peak at the side of the shorts, is meant to invoke a stained-glass window, and there is a crown-and-shield symbol on the sides of the shorts, which was inspired by church windows and King’s personal effects.

There are 22 stars on the sides of the shorts, which represent 22 of the 29 times King was jailed while fighting for justice and equality and also honors the student Freedom Fighters who took part in sit-ins in the South, and King’s quote: “Only when it is dark enough can you see the stars.” Also, King’s signature is included on the authenticity tag.

Since playing on MLK Day is always an important experience for the Hawks (and is highlighted throughout the league), a few years ago, when brainstorming City Edition uniforms, the Hawks had the idea to honor King. The team partnered with King’s estate, the NBA, the Players Association and Nike for release for the 2020-21 season.

Although the Hawks may have planned to wear the uniforms on MLK Day 2021, Jan. 18, it’s unclear whether the season will have started by then. No start date has been announced due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“That was the initial idea, but we know that regardless, we know that we’ll be on the court playing next season and the team will be representing in these uniforms and fans have the opportunity to purchase them and I think one of the most exciting part of this campaign is that we’re going to donate all the proceeds from the sale of this uniform back into the Atlanta community, which is something we’ve never done before,” Proctor said. “So I really think that spirit is we want fans to earn these letters right along with us; we believe that everything we’re doing on a regular basis for our community, from our head coach to our team to our players being out there, now we’re going to encourage fans to earn these letters with this uniform along with us, to get involved.”

Hawks forward John Collins models Atlanta's 2020-21 City Edition uniform, which honors the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

Credit: Atlanta Hawks

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Credit: Atlanta Hawks

In debuting the uniforms, the Hawks’ focus is on bringing King’s message to another generation of Atlantans.

“We were honored to learn of the Atlanta Hawks’ desire to pay homage to Dr. King’s life and legacy by using him as the focus of their 2020-21 MLK Nike City Edition uniform design,” said Eric D. Tidwell, managing director and general counsel of Intellectual Properties Management Inc., which manages King’s estate. “During this challenging climate, it is our hope that this visual reminder of Dr. King’s legacy will inspire people to further educate themselves on how he effected change using his philosophy and methods of nonviolence during the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. We look forward to continuing to work with the Hawks to perpetuate his wonderful legacy.”

King, who started at Morehouse College when he was 15, was a pastor at Ebenezer Baptist and led initiatives such as the Montgomery Bus Boycotts and the March on Washington, where he delivered his famed “I have a Dream” speech. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. At age 39, he was assassinated in Memphis, Tenn.

“Looking at honoring Dr. King was kind of a big idea but one we were very excited about, and sat down and had a conversion with Nike and the team there at the NBA and they were really supportive,” Proctor said. “We started the design process and the collaboration with the Nike design team and it just came together and we just all knew that we had something really special. And then working with the King Estate on making it a reality, the one thing that we all aligned on from the very beginning was knowing that the most important piece of this was how do we really bring Dr. King’s message to the next generation of Atlantans and our target audiences and I really think we were successful with what the uniform became.”