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Bigger Than the Game: Five NBA Players Giving Back

Grant Whittington headshotWords by Grant Whittington
Community Engagement
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The NBA’s All-Star Weekend showcases its superstars with entertaining 3-point and slam dunk contests, skills challenges and celebrity games, all culminating in a high-scoring, dunk-heavy All-Star game featuring the world’s premier players. While it serves as a reminder of the mind-blowing athleticism of these NBA greats, the break in the NBA’s packed schedule also gives us time to reflect on the far-reaching work the league and its players are doing in the community.

This year’s All-Star Weekend in Charlotte kicked off with a day of service. NBA players, accompanied by hundreds of volunteers and service members, participated in three projects throughout the city, packing and sorting food donations to be distributed to those in need, beautifying a community space and refurbishing a computer lab. The projects are expected to have an impact more than 1,500 children in the Charlotte area.

The commitment to serve the community extends well past the All-Star Day of Service, as players have become year-round ambassadors for giving back. Let’s take a look at a few players who have gone above and beyond:

LeBron James, Los Angeles Lakers

No surprises here. LeBron James (shown above hugging then-First Lady , whose list of basketball accomplishments earned its own lengthy Wikipedia page, epitomizes this commitment to giving back to his community. The LeBron James Family Foundation has raised tens of millions of dollars to tackle high drop-out rates for at-risk youth in James’ hometown of Akron, Ohio. Most recently, James’ Foundation opened the I Promise School, a public school in Akron in which graduating students with a minimum GPA of 3.0 are offered free tuition to Akron University. Even James’ controversial live TV program several years ago when he announced his decision to leave his homegrown Cleveland Cavaliers in free agency to chase championships for the Miami Heat raised a total of $6 million for charities.

Kevin Durant, Golden State Warriors

Considered one of the greatest pure scorers in NBA history, swingman Kevin Durant recently committed $10 million to jumpstart a College Track chapter in Prince George’s County, Maryland, where he grew up. College Track’s nine chapters, which span across California, Louisiana and Colorado have helped put nearly 3,000 students through college. The program commits to supporting students for ten years, giving students starting in ninth grade access to financial aid, tutoring, test preparation courses and more through college graduation. The College Track in Prince George’s County will be the first of three slated to open in the next several years in the greater Washington metropolitan area.

Steph Curry, Golden State Warriors

The shifty point guard, world champion and two-time MVP Steph Curry makes assists on and off the court. Consistently among the most philanthropic players in the league, Curry has been active both in the United States and abroad. Since 2012, Curry has donated three malaria nets per three-point shot made - quite remarkable considering he is arguably the best three-point shooter in NBA history. In 2016, he took the fight against malaria to the next level when he partnered with the United Nations and USAID to promote the #CallYourShot social media challenge aimed to raise money to protect families from malaria. Most recently, he’s committed to donating one malaria bed for each signature Nothing But Nets sneaker he sells (10,00+ to date).

More locally, Curry’s annual ThanksUSA golf tournament has raised more than $150,000 since it started in 2011 to give scholarships to the spouses and children of active-duty military. To echo Durant and James’ commitment to giving back to their hometown, Curry announced yesterday that he’s partnering with Under Armour and Chase Bank to pledge a “seven-figure commitment” to renovate Charlotte's Carole Hoefener Center.

Sterling Brown, Milwaukee Bucks

Sterling Brown, a second-year role player for the current Eastern Conference-leading Milwaukee Bucks, has been on a different trajectory when compared to the three future Hall of Famers listed above. Brown joined Puma’s #REFORM campaign last year after a viral video showed Brown as a victim of police brutality. Brown, while he was surrounded by a handful of police officers, was tasered and arrested after being berated for parking illegally. He is channeling the incident into positive change - joining the #REFORM campaign and raising awareness against police brutality and the criminal justice system.  In a February 2 game against the Washington Wizards, Brown wore a pair of black sneakers in the first half to symbolize the prison system and red shoes in the second half to commemorate the blood spilled and the sacrifice made in the fight against oppression.

Isaiah Thomas, Denver Nuggets

It’s nearly impossible to capture all of the positive impact Isaiah Thomas has made since coming into the league in 2011. The former Boston Celtics frontman is a fixture at Boys and Girls Clubs charity events, raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for victims of a fire in Cambridge, Massachusetts, has supported the building of a stunning basketball center in his hometown of Tacoma, Washington and holds charity backpack giveaways. Thomas’ commitment to helping his community in each of the four cities he’s played in during his eight-year career earned him the 2016-17 NBA Community Assist Seasonlong Award.

Image credit: Obama White House/Flickr

Grant Whittington headshotGrant Whittington

Based in Washington, DC, Grant works as a program assistant at SEEP Network, an international development nonprofit. A proud graduate of the University of Maryland, Grant spent four months post-grad living in Armenia where he worked for Habitat for Humanity and the World Food Programme. Grant is passionate about humanitarianism and finding sustainable approaches to international development. He enjoys playing trivia with friends but is still seeking his first victory - he ceaselessly blames his friends lack of preparation.

Read more stories by Grant Whittington