Papal jersey: Francis blesses Hawks jersey on MLK birthday

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FILE - In this file photo dated Sunday, Nov. 29, 2020, Pope Francis holds his pastoral staff as he arrives to celebrate Mass, at St. Peter's Basilica. The Vatican has confirmed that Pope Francis received the first shot of the ant-COVID vaccine on Thursday. No visuals of the 84-yer-old pontiff receiving the shot have been released. The pope has advocated that everyone should get the vaccine, calling it an ethical option performed not only for ones own health but for the lives of others. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia, FILE)

ATLANTA – The Atlanta Hawks sent a special gift to Pope Francis: an MLK jersey that was blessed by the pontiff on Martin Luther King Jr's 92nd birthday Friday.

The Vatican delivery followed Francis' meeting in November with a delegation of NBA players to discuss social justice and economic inequality.

The Hawks sent the pontiff their alternate jersey honoring the Atlanta native son and civil rights icon who was assassinated in 1968. It will be worn for the first time Monday when the team hosts its annual game on the King national holiday.

The team released a video that showed Francis opening a package that contained the No. 1 jersey, which has “MLK” across the front — instead of “Hawks” or the city name — and Francis' name across the back.

The pontiff said “Thank you very much” before blessing the jersey and signing it.

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