I Wanna Be Like Mike
High school basketball standout Mikey Williams could have a Jordan-esque impact on the game of college sports like another Mike from the past.
As a preteen or early teen, children my age could not escape the “I Wanna Be Like Mike” Gatorade commercials.
Basketball legend Michael Jordan had become so popular that children from across the globe wanted to be just like the Chicago Bulls superstar in all areas of life.
My generation did not want to get Chuck Taylor’s as much as previous generations because we wanted the new Jordan sneakers.
Countless basketball greats like Kobe Bryant, Dwayne Wade and LeBron James patterned parts of their game after “His Airness.”
That impact took the game of basketball to the next stratosphere.
Just imagine if Mikey Williams could make people want to be like Mike too by attending Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and not predominantly White institutions (PWIs).
Yesterday, news broke that four-star basketball recruit Nate Tabor signed with HBCU, Norfolk State.
But what if an HBCU landed a five-star recruit?
Back in the 20th century, the best Black high school athletes almost always had to attend HBCUs because segregation did not allow them to attend PWIs.
Therefore, some of the greatest baseball, basketball and football players to ever play the game came from HBCUs like Lou Brock (Southern), Earl Monroe (Winston-Salem State) and later Walter Payton (Jackson State).
HBCUs also gave many Black quarterbacks like Grambling State’s Doug Williams and Alcorn State’s Steve McNair the opportunity to play the position they loved even after PWIs opened their schools to Black players.
Although Black players began integrating some college programs in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, racism and prejudice stopped many from playing positions that required players to use their intellect.
At the time, many White coaches did not think that Black players had the requisite acumen to play quarterback in football, point guard in basketball or pitcher in baseball.
Therefore, HBCUs became a lifesaver for many Black athletes even after integration.
But after the integration of college sports occurred, something much more impactful happened.
College sports became big business.
As a result of lucrative television and radio contracts, colleges began banking billions of dollars thanks to sports like football and to a lesser degree, basketball.
Schools even began receiving big time shoe and apparel endorsement deals, which brought even more riches to the colleges’ coffers.
Unfortunately, HBCUs did not get to benefit from much of those riches because integration had already pulled some of the most talented Black athletes away from HBCUs.
As a result, many PWIs became wealthy beyond people’s wildest imagination while many HBCUs struggle to keep their doors open.
The coronavirus pandemic might result in the closure of several HBCUs as students choose to stay home from school rather than risk exposure to the virus or settle for virtual learning.
Unlike PWIs, many HBCUs do not have large endowments from wealthy alumni because many HBCU alums have not become wealthy yet.
On the other hand, many of the biggest universities in the country got rich centuries ago because they received money from wealthy slave owners and even used slaves on their campus to keep the schools functioning free of charge.
If you do not believe me, read the book “Ebony and Ivy” by Craig Steven Wilder, which discusses how the most preeminent universities in America were built on the backs of slaves.
What Mikey Williams and his generation have the opportunity to do is to stop being slaves to PWIs.
Instead, the best Black high school athletes can take their talents to HBCUs and help bring wealth and stability to some of our community’s most valued monuments of history.
If the Mikey Williamses of the world take their talent to HBCUs, they will also take some of those lucrative television and radio deals with them and away from programs that might not care about them if they could not dunk or catch a football.
No, I am not advocating for a new form of segregation.
Black athletes should not have to attend HBCUs and White athletes should not have to attend PWIs.
But I am advocating for a new business model in which HBCUs could benefit as much from the wealth generated by college sports as PWIs.
The biggest and most prestigious universities have gotten rich off of the backs of Black men and women since slavery.
However, this generation could be motivated by the Black Lives Matter movement to stop being slaves and become the masters of their own fate.
Mikey Williams would probably be a one-and-done basketball talent (if that NBA rules still exists in 2023), meaning he might play his freshman season in college and head straight to the National Basketball Association.
Therefore, his money will almost certainly be secure if he continues to live up to his potential on the basketball court.
However, what about the Black college athletes who are not good enough to make it to the professional ranks?
What do they receive besides a free “education?”
The universities get rich off of their talent.
The coaches get rich off of their talent.
But they still sometimes have to face the same racism on campus that Black people have to face off campus.
After the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, many former college athletes of color began sharing their stories of racism experienced at the hands of some White college coaches.
Although the HBCU experience would not be perfect, neither is the PWI experience.
Therefore, Black college athletes have to think about what type of legacy they will leave behind.
Many will not make the pros.
However, all can make a difference.
The reason Black people still face systemic racism in 2020 is because we have no power.
We have no power because we do not have enough wealth.
One way to close the wealth gap as quickly as possible is to help transfer some of those billions into Black hands via college sports.
Many critics like the Laura Ingrahams of the world will probably argue that Black athletes going to HBCUs will be like reverse segregation and we do not need to self-segregate, especially in these racially divisive times.
But when was the last time an elite White athlete considered playing for an HBCU?
Peyton Manning and Eli Manning grew up in the New Orleans area.
Did they consider attending Southern University or Grambling State University?
I seriously doubt it.
Did the Manning boys segregate themselves by attending a PWI?
If that was not segregation, it should not be considered reverse segregation if elite Black athletes consider attending predominantly Black colleges.
It should be considered groundbreaking and game changing, especially if other Black high school athletes want to be like Mike too.