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NBA hoops and the MLK Jr. holiday

The NBA games on Monday are a chance to view MLK Jr.'s dream through the prism of sports. Scoop Jackson/ESPN.com

Every year, I've hosted what we call "The Jump Off."

(Note to anyone under the age of 35 who might be reading this: Don't get the lingo twisted. Our "Jump Off" is about the beginning of something. Nothing else.)

In the past, it's been a party to celebrate the opening night of the new NBA season, the beginning. Food, drinks, fellas, relatives, laughs, arguments, love. It's our annual excuse to use basketball as a reunion. To make sure we stay connected, to make sure life doesn't separate us from one another more than it already has. Every year, it's something special.

Got Lockout?

This season, there was no "Jump Off." David Stern's master's plan to begin the season on Christmas Day un-did our annual event. (Meaning Chris Paul-to-the-Lakers wasn't the only way Stern exercised his veto power.)

I figured we'd make up for it next year; that due to this 66-game NBA circumstance, our annual event wouldn't happen and that everyone involved understood.

On Christmas, though, I started getting calls. Then emails, texts and Facebook messages. By New Year's Eve, I was getting stopped in the streets.

When are you going to have the Jump Off?

It's like the season hasn't officially started until we have the party!

Screams of passion: Family.

The requests and demands kept coming. Relentlessly.

So …

So now MLK Day, Monday, is going be our official NBA "Jump Off" for this season. Games all day and all evening, starting with Magic-Knicks and Bulls-Griz in the early afternoon, all the way through Mavs-Lakers late at night.

But this year, it comes with a twist.

See, MLK Day has always been a day of reflection for us. A day when we remind ourselves of the price we paid for freedom, and how the struggle still continues. And although there have always been NBA and NCAA basketball games played on that day, they've always been secondary to what our family can do to not let MLK's dream die.

Can't change that. This MLK Day can be no different in that context.

Our NBA Opening Day parties have always centered on conversations. Truths, lies, predictions and pseudo-prophecies. Magazines, books and the Official NBA Register on display in the living and dining rooms so dudes can fact-check. N.Y. Knicks and L.A. Lakers towels used as throws, rally accessories and table runners. A basketball always within reach just in case someone wants to prove something in the driveway.

But this year, the madness has to meet the message. The book "Eyes on the Prize" strategically placed next to Bill Simmons' "The Book of Basketball," while the "Eyes on the Prize" DVD series play on various TVs throughout the house. The graphic biography of King by Ho Che Anderson will be resting atop the illustrated book, "For the Love of Basketball: From A to Z." Me, wearing a Nelson Mandela or Dr. King T-shirt instead of the "Jordan v. Kobe" tee I had made up for the earlier occasions.

Anything to deepen the conversation beyond "What's wrong with LeBron?" and trying to defend how we (ESPN.com) could have Kobe at No. 7 in our best-player poll.

Instead, we can talk about the role that sports, specifically basketball, have played in shaping our consciousness as blacks existing in America. Conversations about the role they could play now … but don't. Conversations about the perceived apathy of most of today's athletes. Conversations about why there is no #Occupy movement in sports.

We can pull the kids into the room between games and tell them how Spencer Haywood was LeBron before LeBron. We can argue whether Dr. King would be a Tim Tebow fan if he were alive today. We can take the time to ask ourselves if we, personally, are guilty of putting too much emphasis on spectator sports rather than recreation in our everyday lives.

For this particular NBA "Jump Off," we are going to have to make it mean more. We are going to make sports share the spotlight. Those who don't understand -- I don't foresee there being many -- will simply and impolitely be asked to leave. The day will be about more than just basketball, and it'll be on everyone who steps through the door to acknowledge it. Just for this one day.

From my vantage point, from where I stand, it's the least we can do.

Scoop Jackson is a columnist for ESPN.com.

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