Najee Garvin played at three different colleges, the last being an HBCU. Being on an NBA court and wearing the NBA logo sometimes didn’t seem realistic.
He went nearly two full years without playing a game. Garvin even became a cook at Chili’s to pay the bills.
On Monday, he wore that NBA logo after all.
Garvin was one of 28 players invited to the inaugural HBCU Showcase at the NBA 2K23 Summer League in Las Vegas. With a few dozen scouts in the stands and four former NBA players — all of them now at historically Black colleges and universities — doing the coaching, Garvin ran through drills and played in scrimmages, getting an audition like no other in his career.
“A job,” Garvin told the Associated Press when asked what would make the day a success for him. “I’m just authentic. A job. Nowadays, it’s hard to get a job. You’ve got to be put in the right place, around the right people, who know the right stuff.”
The NBA is hoping that it put that combination of right place, right people and right stuff together — with this showcase the latest way the league hopes to give HBCU players opportunities.
Also read: Upstart HBCU Basketball Association will be a league just for HBCU players
There’s only one player from an HBCU school currently in the NBA, that being Robert Covington of the Los Angeles Clippers. No HBCU player has been drafted in a decade. Of the 30 rosters for teams in Las Vegas, only five featured an HBCU alum.
“I’m a visionary,” said Mo Williams, the former NBA guard who now coaches at Jackson State. “We have a lot of talent at the HBCU level that don’t get those invites to the NBA Combine, to Portsmouth, the G League Combine now, to things like that. We feel like those kids are talented enough to be professional athletes. This is a start.”
HBCU football players haven’t been left out of the spotlight. Some got the opportunity to showcase their talents in early February when the NFL hosted its first HBCU combine during Senior Bowl workouts.
The NBA has made strides for basketball players in recent years to address areas where it feels changes were needed. There are a record 15 Black coaches in the NBA right now, eight of those hires coming in the last year or so.
The 2021 NBA All-Star Game generated at least $3 million for HBCUs through donations to scholarship funds — and the exposure those schools got during the game was worth even more. The league has started a paid fellowship program that places HBCU students in jobs with the league office and with NBA and WNBA teams. And this past season, All-Star weekend included a game between Howard and Morgan State.
And now, the attention turns to individual players.
“The showcase is a chance for us to continue creating opportunity for the world’s best talent,” said Morgan Cato, an NBA vice president who is about to become an assistant general manager with the Phoenix Suns. “There’s a perception of HBCU programs not necessarily being able to turn out talent. But all of our investments from the league office are about creating opportunity, creating access, and letting great players really have the opportunity to be seen by teams.”