Out of the four major sports organizations in the United States — the National Football League, National Basketball Association, National Hockey League and Major League Baseball — the NBA stands out as the most influential league within communities across the country. Philanthropy work to benefit underprivileged children and families includes both NBA-sponsored programs and individual players’ foundations. Aid and assistance demonstrate the power and influence of sports within American society, as programs and athletes continue to find creative ways to serve civilians in need.
NBA Cares, the league’s “global social responsibility program” aims to address important social issues, encouraging children to stay healthy and active, mentoring younger generations and giving back to military personnel.
Programs like My Brother’s Keeper — launched by President Barack Obama — recruited 25,000 mentors for young boys who need an influential figure in their life. Additionally, Hoops for Troops, an organization which honors former and active military men and women, collaborates with the Department of Defense to connect servicemen and women to work with several teams across the league.
However, the NBA-affiliated philanthropic programs do not represent the only positive impact of the league. NBA players themselves take the extra step off the court and personally assist their communities, many of them having their own individual foundations that work with problems in their local cities.
After Hurricane Irma, former San Antonio Spurs player Tim Duncan traveled to the U.S. Virgin Islands, where he was born, to personally delivery over 400,000 pounds of food. Dallas Maverick J.J. Barea flew to Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria with a plane providing over 100,000 pounds of food, water, generators and medical supplies.
In addition to assisting with disaster relief efforts, all-star athletes support military personnel, low-income families, ill children and other cohorts in need of assistance. Leading the charge in their communities are LeBron James and Steph Curry, the faces of the Eastern and Western Conferences, respectively.
LeBron’s legacy not only lies with his three NBA Finals MVP trophies, but emanates from his positive influence on today’s youth. Leading by example, the Cleveland legend has pledged over $40 million to provide a free education to 1,100 students through the LeBron James’ Family Foundation.
Steph Curry recently donated 20,000 pairs of shoes to children in Congo and also teamed up with the United Nations to donate malaria nets to villages across Africa. He also took a personal trip to Tanzania where he met with several communities in need.
Other NBA stars including John Wall, Thabo Sefolosha, Pau Gasol and Kyrie Irving have found ways to help underprivileged communities through a wide range of charity works.
The John Wall Foundation teamed up with the Passport to Manhood Program, which aims to employ young men with community service projects. Additionally, Wall works closely with the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, demonstrating his support for kids with less fortunate health conditions.
After an incident with New York Police Department officers outside of a Manhattan nightclub, Thabo Sefolosha suffered a broken leg and later won a settlement for four million dollars. Innocent from any crime or charge, Sefolosha decided to donate a substantial portion of his settlement earnings to Gideon’s Promise, an Atlanta-based defender’s organizations that helps protect low-income citizens in legal cases.
A veteran of the NBA, Pau Gasol continues to be an activist for children’s health and wellness. Through the Gasol Foundation, the Spurs center works in both the U.S. and Spain on efforts to reduce childhood obesity through partnerships with UNICEF and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
Attending high school in Elizabeth, New Jersey, Kyrie Irving recently helped renovate a new gym and locker room at the Patrick High School. In addition to donating new shoes, Irving also gave the basketball team warm-up shirts that read “Once a Celtic, always a Celtic,” his high school and current NBA team name. When in Cleveland, Irving hosted a charity walk and basketball game to fundraise for Best Buddies, a group that provides employment for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
Several NBA coaches have also spoken publicly about issues of race, politics and other current controversial topics.
Gregg Popovich stands alone as the longest tenured active coach in the NBA and all U.S. major sports leagues. When asked about the purpose of his charity work, Popovich said, “Because we are rich as hell and we don’t need it all, and other people need it.”
While talking to the media about race, Popovich said, “Why do we have to talk about that? Well, because it’s uncomfortable and there has to be an uncomfortable element in the discourse for anything to change.”
Popovich shows a genuine understanding of white privilege, and his decision to use his platform to discuss important issues displays his intellect and desire to change the racial culture in America.
Stan Van Gundy, head coach of the Detroit Pistons, told reporters before a Pistols-Detroit Wizards game that he believes our country has been founded on protests. He applauds players who take a stand on injustice and sees them as “patriots” — sacrificing their positions to improve conditions for American people, just like the Founding Fathers. Van Gundy has also referred to himself as a poster boy for white privilege demonstrating his knowledge regarding his race as an advantage.
Head coach of the Golden State Warriors, Steve Kerr has also publicly declared his disapproval of President Donald Trump while also talking about other issues, like legalization of marijuana in the NBA and NFL. Noting that marijuana has helped him with his chronic back pain, Kerr argues the drug should be used instead of painkillers like Vicodin. Talking about politics, Kerr strongly disagreed with many of the president’s new policies, but offered some big-picture advice to the man in the Oval Office.
“You’re the president,” Kerr said in an interview with Sports Illustrated. “You represent all of us. Don’t divide us. Bring us together.”
Driven by coaches and players across the nation, the NBA continues to lead by example, assisting communities and social groups that need attention and opportunity. Raising the standard of kindness supports the NBA’s standing as the United States’ most prominent league going forward.
A version of this article appeared in the Monday, Jan. 22 print edition. Email Brendan Duggan at [email protected]