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MLK Day

Hawks coach Lloyd Pierce taking team on field trip to learn about Atlanta

Stops will include an Outkast mural and Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthplace

Atlanta Hawks head coach Lloyd Pierce is taking his players on a field trip with an African American twist on Tuesday.

The day after Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Pierce is giving the Hawks the day off from practice to attend the mandatory team event.

“It’s basically an Atlanta day. We’re taking the team to a couple cool spots in the city that is Atlanta. One will be fun-focused, the other will be history- and MLK-focused, and the third is supporting local Atlanta,” Pierce told The Undefeated. “The true meaning of it is to learn more about Atlanta.”

The Hawks will first visit a painted mural of the rap duo Andre 3000 and Big Boi of Outkast in Atlanta’s Little Five Points neighborhood. Pierce, a huge hip-hop and rhythm and blues fan, recently took a picture with his nephew at the mural, which debuted in the fall. The artist, who goes by JEKS, based it on a portrait of the hip-hop stars taken by photographer Jonathan Mannion.

The Hawks plan to take a team picture at the mural and there is hope of Big Boi or rapper Killer Mike possibly making an appearance as well. For a roster with 13 players under age 25, this stop will serve as a music lesson on the street-conscious group that has sold more than 25 million albums and won six Grammy awards.

“Outkast is a major global icon from the South,” said Pierce, who is a native of San Jose, California. “In a lot of ways, the South has its own sound. A lot of our young guys don’t know Outkast, which is why we are going there. They got the mural. But we always joke about it as a team that the young guys don’t fully appreciate Outkast.

“Some guys know it, but don’t really know it. But myself, the coaching staff and Vince [Carter] really appreciate Outkast.”

Head coach Lloyd Pierce (right) of the Atlanta Hawks high-fives Vince Carter (left) during the third quarter of the preseason game against the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden on Oct. 16, 2019, in New York.

Sarah Stier/Getty Images

The second stop will be the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historical Park. There are several historical buildings to visit there, including King’s boyhood home and memorial, Ebenezer Baptist Church, and a visitors center with a museum chronicling King and the civil rights movement.

“When you talk about Dr. King’s legacy, you can go through a lot of different things,” Pierce said. “But the bottom line is he was fighting for civil, social and personal injustices. He was fighting for human rights of all people. It wasn’t something that he thought he was going to benefit from. He felt the need to do it so others can benefit from it. And the legacy of helping others is truly what it comes down to.

“He showed it mainly through civil rights, and that is the biggest thing we know it for. But it was really to provide others an opportunity to do what they need to do without racism, without segregation, without economic empowerment or disempowerment. He wanted everyone to have an opportunity to be and do whatever they would like to do. It was a nonviolent approach. It was a very well thought-out and consistent approach to benefit later generations.”

From left to right: John Collins; Tyler Dorsey; Lloyd Pierce, coach of the Atlanta Hawks; and Kent Bazemore watch the Atlanta Dream and the Connecticut Sun on June 5, 2018, at Hank McCamish Pavilion in Atlanta.

Scott Cunningham/NBAE via Getty Images

The second-year head coach has embraced the team’s “True to Atlanta” motto, which he says is “about giving back to the city, being about the city and having pride in it.” It’s not uncommon to see Pierce at Braves, Falcons, Dream or Atlanta United FC games. He has also had Atlanta dignitaries speak to his team, including baseball legend and former Braves star Hank Aaron, Basketball Hall of Famer and former Hawks star Dikembe Mutombo, and U.S. ambassador and former Atlanta mayor Andrew Young. Those visits were made private so the speakers and players could speak openly.

Pierce and his coaching staff have also met with civil rights leader and U.S. Rep. Lewis and civil rights leader Rev. Joseph E. Lowery at his home.

Pierce with Rep. John Lewis

Courtesy of Lloyd Pierce

“There is no agenda by having any of these guys speak,” Pierce said. “The only thing I say is you have been a staple in the city of Atlanta and we want to embrace Atlanta. Can you share with us what this place means to you? And then it takes on its own identity from Hank Aaron speaking about dealing with segregation and racism at the peak of his career and how it really protected him for everything in life. And how unaffected he was by it because he was so accustomed to it. Hitting a home run was the last thing that stressed him out. That was probably the easiest thing to do playing baseball. He had to worry about where he was going to get a meal and being in a different hotel than his teammates.

“Just having those stories being told and learning what Atlanta means to him, being embraced and making Atlanta his home the rest of his career and his life, is a meaningful experience to him.”

The Hawks will complete their field trip with a team lunch at West Atlanta’s popular Slutty Vegan restaurant. The black-owned establishment was founded by Pinky Cole, whose vegan food has been enjoyed by celebrities such Snoop Dogg, Taraji P. Henson, Will Smith and Tiffany Haddish.

“It’s a new Atlanta staple,” Pierce said. “We always talk about community. And everyone in Atlanta is about something, whether it is what they do through their foundation, how they help the community. They are true to the city if they are from here and claim the city if they are not from here. But everyone in Atlanta is about something. I wanted to take them through Atlanta in different facets.”

Marc J. Spears is the senior NBA writer for The Undefeated. He used to be able to dunk on you, but he hasn’t been able to in years and his knees still hurt.