The men’s basketball teams from Howard and Morgan State will play a showcase game during All-Star Weekend in Cleveland as the NBA seeks to expand its support of historically Black colleges and universities.

The Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference rivals will face off in the inaugural HBCU Classic on Feb. 19 at Cleveland State’s Wolstein Center. Howard had been scheduled to host Morgan State at Burr Gymnasium on that date. Instead, the HBCU Classic is expected to air on multiple networks between the All-Star Game practice session and the traditional All-Star Saturday slate, which includes the skills challenge, the three-point contest and the slam dunk contest.

“That rivalry between Howard and Morgan State, between Washington, D.C., and Baltimore, we thought that was a great rivalry to take advantage of [for the inaugural event] and it wouldn’t require too much maneuvering from their regular schedule,” NBA Deputy Commissioner Mark Tatum said Wednesday. “We hope to showcase and feature other schools down the road, but this seemed to be a pretty good one to start with.”

Last season, the coronavirus pandemic forced the NBA to delay and relocate All-Star Weekend, which was originally scheduled for Indianapolis. The scaled-down event, held March 7 in Atlanta, featured several HBCU tie-ins, including jersey patches, marching band performances and donations to the Thurgood Marshall College Fund and the United Negro College Fund.

The National Basketball Players Association, under the guidance of then-president Chris Paul, helped push for the inclusion of the Black educational institutions, and 2021 All-Star Weekend ultimately raised $3 million for HBCUs. Organizers expect this season’s all-star festivities to generate an additional $1 million.

Howard Athletic Director Kery Davis said in a statement that his school was “incredibly proud” to be invited to the 2022 contest, noting that the NBA and HBCUs are “natural partners because of our rich legacy elevating under-represented communities and our shared passion for cultivating opportunities for people of color.”

In addition to the HBCU Classic, the NBA is establishing a paid fellowship program for HBCU students looking for their first jobs in the sports industry, an effort that Tatum said is aimed at “narrowing the racial inequality gap.” The league’s hope is that other sports organizations and non-sports corporations will follow suit and establish similar programs.

After receiving pushback from players for hosting 2021 All-Star Weekend at a time when vaccines were not widely available, the NBA is preparing for a return to a more typical experience in Cleveland. Officials arrived in the host city this week to begin preparations; the league plans to honor its 75th anniversary team — just as it celebrated its 50th anniversary team at the 1997 All-Star Game in Cleveland.

“We’re hoping for as much of a normal season that we can get to,” Tatum said. “... This virus is unpredictable, but our hope is that we will have as close to a normal All-Star Game as possible. We’re hoping that we will be able to play in front of a full arena of fans.”

Philadelphia 76ers stars Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons were unable to compete in the 2021 All-Star Game after they came into close contact with someone who tested positive for the coronavirus, but fears of a superspreader event did not materialize. With 96 percent of players fully vaccinated and at least 75 percent of U.S. adults at least partially vaccinated, the NBA believes it is capable of safely hosting a multiday event that draws fans and media members from around the globe.

“There’s no doubt that we collectively as a country have advanced in many different areas [since March],” Tatum said. “We’ve learned and are continuing to learn how to operate, how to go about living our lives and conducting business in a pandemic.”

The NBA and the NBPA have been focused on economic empowerment and career advancement issues in recent years, with the league agreeing to provide $300 million over the next 10 years to fund the NBA Foundation in August 2020. In the wake of the Jacob Blake shooting later that month, the NBA and the NBPA agreed to form a Social Justice Coalition, featuring players, coaches and team owners, to advocate for policy changes on issues such as voting access and civic engagement.

Some of the most visible advocacy efforts that took place in the Disney World bubble — national anthem demonstrations, Black Lives Matter court decals and social justice jersey slogans — have disappeared since the NBA returned to its home arenas for the 2020-21 season. Yet Tatum said the commitments to HBCUs are evidence of “maturing” activism by the league and its players.

“Symbolic gestures are important, but we are now going beyond symbolic gestures and actually organizing and creating institutional resources to effect change, in partnership with the players,” he said. “By creating our Social Justice Coalition, we’re able to institutionalize some of the action that we’re taking and trying to rally support and advocate for sensible bipartisan changes that we think need to be made in criminal justice reform, voting access and the like.”