The National Basketball Association (NBA) and its players have an undeniable level of cultural influence, and they’re becoming increasingly intentional in the ways they use it for positive impact. To start, they’re emphasizing an awareness that winning at the game of life is as important as a win in basketball by focusing on the three Cs of their core areas of reach: court, community, and culture. That concerted effort between players and the NBA organization resulted in the creation of the National Basketball Social Justice Coalition, as well as expanded efforts to drive economic empowerment via the NBA Foundation.
Founded in November 2020 as a collaboration between the NBA and the National Basketball Players Association, the Social Justice Coalition has a mission to raise awareness, educate and advocate for meaningful reform through focused action in areas including voting access and criminal justice reform. Around the same time that the Coalition was created, the NBA had visible involvement during the fall election cycle, when 23 NBA organizations offered their facilities as polling and voter registration centers. James Cadogan, the Coalition's recently-appointed executive director, says one of the things he appreciates most about the organization is its quick response to a community need during such a critical election, which is a large part of what makes him so proud to be a part of it.
“It is exactly the kind of direct action where NBA folks are putting their resources behind the kinds of public engagement that we want to see,” says the veteran civil rights attorney and social justice advocate. “Civic engagement and voting are a critical part of the National Basketball Social Justice Coalition’s agenda, and to have gone in such short order from the idea of a coalition to the idea of a foundation, to seeing them now up and running and investing that way...that’s a really huge accomplishment, and I'm really proud of everyone who’s involved.”
The NBA Foundation has also been actively affecting positive change by widening the school-to-career pipeline in Black communities through job readiness, skill training, job placement and career advancement programs that target youth aged 14-24. Greg Taylor, the Foundation’s new executive director, wants to ensure young people see the variety of ways they can find employment within the NBA, even if they’re not star-level basketball players. As confirmation, he mentions how he “made it to the NBA without touching a ball,” and he wants to help more youth to do the same. “We know our young people possess incredible levels of genius, and we know opportunity is often fleeting. We want to make sure opportunity meets that genius, and that’s what our work is all about,” he says.
To that end, in its first two rounds of grants, the Foundation has donated more than $5 million to non-profit organizations that work to address education gaps in historically underfunded Black communities nationwide. The consistently-growing list of recipients includes the Marcus Graham Project, Operation DREAM, the Youth Empowerment Project, Big Brothers and Sisters of Miami, and the Center for Leadership Development. “We want young people to know there are so many other career opportunities to participate in this great game,” says Taylor. “Whether that’s lawyers, creatives, or computer scientists, the full range of employment prospects are relevant.”
Over the next 10 years, the 30 NBA team governors pledge to contribute $30 million annually in initial funding enabling the NBA Foundation to continue its work to develop additional funding sources.
To apply for an NBA Foundation grant, click here.