African-American museum’s sports gallery wins a following: athletes

For Justise Winslow, a young forward on the Miami Heat, the most memorable part of his team’s early-season visit to the National Museum of African American History and Culture was the permanent presentation on Muhammad Ali. The section honoring Ali abuts the larger athletics gallery, a spatial acknowledgment that his significance is too capacious to be contained even by the wide world of sports.

“Him standing up for his religion, not going into the draft,” Winslow marveled in a recent interview. “Everything he stood for is pretty amazing.”

“If anything,” he said of the museum’s sports exhibition, “I felt inspired.”

In a year when the White House has become a fraught Washington destination for athletes, the African-American history museum — which opened last September to great fanfare and critical acclaim — has quickly become a must-see attraction for visiting players and teams.

The Arizona Diamondbacks were the first professional team to visit, according to museum officials, arriving during a swing through Washington soon after the museum opened. Hank Aaron has toured it. So have Emmitt Smith and Kobe Bryant.

College basketball teams, including squads from Maryland, Michigan State and Vanderbilt, have included the museum as an educational stop. And this spring, a contingent from the New York Yankees, led by pitcher C.C. Sabathia, came from Baltimore during a series against the Orioles.

“There were a lot of things that we didn’t know,” Sabathia said.

“A couple times,” he added, “I felt like I was about to cry. A couple times, I got excited.”

No league, however, has had more representatives than the NBA. According to museum officials, nearly half of the league’s 30 teams — from the hometown Washington Wizards to the cross-continent Los Angeles Lakers, and the Portland Trail Blazers to the New York Knicks — have had members tour the museum. The NBA commissioner, Adam Silver, and Michele A. Roberts, the…

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