Welcome back to The Last Chip, the newsletter where I share stories and lessons from behind the scenes of The Big Three’s last championship season. This is a special issue, where instead of writing about me, I’m writing about Makur Maker’s choice to play at Howard University.
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When I heard Makur Maker, one of the top recruits in the country, had agreed to ball at Howard University, I immediately knew he had changed the game forever. Because I’ll be straight with you: When I was graduating high school, I didn’t even consider going to a Historically Black College or University (HBCU) to play basketball.
It’s not as though I didn’t know what HBCUs were all about; in fact, The Bosh Family has represented at HBCUs throughout Texas and the Southeast, as those were the only places where Black people could get higher education back in the day. Come to think of it, I was one of the first in my family to go to a college that wasn’t an HBCU.
So since hearing about Maker’s choice, I’ve been reflecting on why I didn’t even look at an HBCU for college. And I realized it’s because I always had in mind pursuing the kinds of schools perceived as being where the world’s best athletes should play; schools in major conferences with the best facilities on the planet, the freshest amenities I could imagine, and airtime on the biggest television networks. Ultimately, it came down to resources and opportunities: If you’re a 17 year-old kid, twelve months out from becoming an NBA player, going to the school with beds that could fit a seven footer, and with a guaranteed berth in the NCAA Tournament, seemed like a no-brainer.
That’s why Makur Maker’s decision was such a landmark breakthrough. Because he wasn’t going to let his decision be dictated by which school was perceived to have the most resources. Instead, he decided to be a trailblazer. Because he knew that if he went to Howard, that would bring attention to their basketball program, it would bring eyeballs to their games, and yes, it would eventually bring them funding as well. And even beyond Howard University, it would bring credibility to the 111 HBCUs nationwide as potential homes to the top athletes across the world.
In an interview with Pablo Torres: Makur distilled his mindset brilliantly: “Use basketball—don’t let basketball use you.”
He couldn’t be more right. If you are lucky enough to be an elite college prospect, or an NBA player, you can use your platform to make a difference for people of color across the world. That’s what I’ve tried to do with this newsletter—whose first month’s proceeds will go toward Color of Change. (Subscribe now!) It’s what NBA players will be doing in the bubble, as they continue to center the world’s attention on the Black Lives Matter movement. And it’s what Makur has done by choosing to attend Howard University.
Since its founding in 1867, Howard has been one of the most influential academic and cultural institutions in the United States. Since at least the days of Puffy’s parties, it’s also been one of the most legendary social scenes anywhere on earth. And because of the leadership shown by Makur, Howard now has the chance to also become one of the top basketball programs anywhere—especially because their coach is Kenny Blakeney.
Kenny worked me out back when I was a prospect, and I still remember one of the things he said to me: “I don’t want anything from you. I just want to see you do well.” That’s the attitude of a coach who knows how to set players up for success; Kenny isn’t in it for himself, he’s in it to help young adults realize their potential. And I can’t wait to see what he and Makur are able to accomplish together.
I also really hope Makur’s decision doesn’t prove to be a fluke. Because if this is the beginning of a movement, then Makur won’t only bring more attention to HBCUs this year. He’ll inspire more five star recruits to break the mold set by my generation of players—and attend HBCUs in the years ahead. And if we have their backs, and watch their games, and root them on, then we can build the political will to motivate the private and public sectors to come together and close the funding gap between HBCUs and other college athletic programs.
That way, Black players can attend Black colleges and universities, with confidence that their collegiate basketball careers will still prepare them to play at the highest levels. And fans of all kinds—Black and white, young and old, no matter where they studied—can proudly cheer them on.