Pete Pranica, the voice of the Memphis Grizzlies, moderated the 16th annual Earl Lloyd Sports Legacy Symposium that featured (top to bottom) NBA legend Ray Allen, WNBA Star Nneka Ogwumike and “Inside the NBA” commentator Kenny Smith. (Screen capture)

by Najee El-Amin —

Three of the top names in the sports realm were honored during the Grizzlies 16th annual Earl Lloyd Sports Legacy Symposium.

The program took place on Martin Luther King Jr. federal holiday on Jan. 18 and was held virtually due to COVID-19 protocol.

This year’s awardees were NBA legend Ray Allen, WNBA Star Nneka Ogwumike and Inside the NBA commentator Kenny Smith.

The voice of the Memphis Grizzlies Pete Pranica hosted the event and began the afternoon by presenting video packages from Grizzlies President Jason Wexler and the National Civil Rights Museum Chief of Marketing Faith Morris.

While their statements were brief, the message inside them held true to the symposium’s motto “Remember. Celebrate. Act.”

“We know 2020 was tough, even more reason to reflect on this man who was born King.” said Morris. “We celebrate Dr. King’s life…We celebrate this man and how he inspires us, this nation, this world to do better, be better.”

Most people know Allen for his decorated career on the hardwood. Allen, a deadly three- point marksman, played in the league for 18 seasons, racking up two NBA championships, 10 All-Star game appearances and is immortalized within the NBA’s Hall of Fame.

While these would be sufficient on their own, Allen also prides himself with the work he does off the court. He is the Founder of the Ray of Hope organization, which specializes in sports and community-related programs for underserved youth.

Allen was appreciative to receive the Sports Legacy Award and mentioned how Dr. King has influenced not only his life, but the whole world.

“We have to always keep in mind what we have been blessed with. And we have to be humble in this endeavor that we have now and make sure that we move forward knowing that we have to create a legacy for those who come after us,” said Allen. “He created a bridge for us to have and do the things that we can do in this world that we all live together today.”

Ogwumike was the first overall pick in the 2012 WNBA draft and went on to earn the league’s Rookie of the Year Award that same season. The proud first-generation Nigerian-American baller also has a WNBA championship under her belt, as well as a 2016 league MVP award.

The only recipient this year to be actively playing, Ogwumike heads the WNBA’s Player Association and is a frequent advocate for equality and health.

Asked about her community contributions, Ogwumike said how proud she is of her fellow players within the association.

“We’ve truly learned as a group of women how to educate ourselves, how to mobilize, how to declare our value in ways that serve as an example to the communities that follow us and the communities that don’t know us,” said Ogwumike.

Smith is most recognizable in his role as a sports broadcaster on TNT, but decades ago he won two NBA titles with the Houston Rockets.

Smith’s role in the Aim High Foundation helps direct youth down a positive path by incorporating basketball and academics into their lives.

Smith and Pranica discussed one of the most iconic moments in Smith’s years on television that came when Smith walked off the set of “Inside the NBA” as a result of the Jacob Blake Jr. shooting.

Blake is the Kenosha, Wisconsin man shot seven times in the back by a Kenosha police officer on Aug. 23 as he walked to his car, where his three children were seated. The shooting left him paralyzed from the waist down. The Kenosha police officer responsible for the shooting will not be charged, Kenosha County District Attorney Michael Graveley announced on Jan. 5.

“I just stopped and said today can’t be the same. Everything can’t feel the same.” said Smith.

“They called me, right afterward and he (Jacob Blake Sr.) was crying. Saying he felt empowered by what I had done for his son.”