The sports industry is reliant on fans and the community of support it gathers. In return for the sold-out stadiums and constant support, athletes give back to the communities that have given to them, and their work with charities and causes they care about has helped thousands. It is important to highlight the good that these athletes do when they aren’t on the court. In this article, I will highlight just a few of the athletes in just the basketball world who have made a positive impact on their community.
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On May 23, the NBA announced that Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry won the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Social Justice Champion award for the 2022-23 season. The award has previously gone to Reggie Bullock and Carmelo Anthony. This award recognizes athletes who pursue social justice while upholding NBA core values by donating $100,000 to an organization of the athlete's choice. Curry has spent much of his career dedicated to social justice, whether it be helping educate and register young voters as co-chair of the “We All Vote” initiative or raising awareness about public safety. Curry also has multiple organizations dedicated to helping underserved communities including UNDERRATED, a lifestyle brand that opens doors for overlooked athletes to be seen by college recruiters, and Unanimous Media, a production company that collaborates with underrepresented filmmakers to tell inspiring, authentic stories. Curry and his wife, Ayesha Curry, founded the nonprofit Eat. Learn. Play. to ensure children in Oakland have access to safe spaces to learn and play, resources, and nutritious, quality foods. As the winner of the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Social Justice Champion award, Curry has chosen the University of San Francisco Institute for Nonviolence and Social Justice to receive the monetary contribution offered by the NBA. Curry is just one athlete who is dedicated to making a difference by increasing access and equity for all.
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LeBron James has also made a significant impact on his community. In 2018, James and The LeBron James Family Foundation announced the creation of the I Promise School in Akron, Ohio with an experimental small class and the school began full operations in 2022. The school is dedicated to serving students who are falling behind, focusing on building a whole person both socially and academically. The school focuses on social-emotional learning, with a STEM curriculum and a “We Are Family” philosophy. The school also offers resources for families of students to help in any way they can. James is giving back to students who grew up in poverty, who were identified as students with behavioral issues, and who were not performing well in public schools by giving them opportunities. The school, which is a public school funded by the district, has grown over the last few years and continues to help close the achievement gap that plagues Akron, Ohio, and many cities across the United States. James is helping to ensure that students who are falling behind as early as 3rd grade do not slip through the cracks. The official documentary about the I Promise School can be found on Youtube to provide a deeper insight into the philosophy of the school and how the school serves students and their families.
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Atlanta Hawks center Onyeka Okongwu devotes time off the court to Kate’s Club of Atlanta, an organization that helps children and families struggling with the loss of a loved one. Okongwu has discussed that he has experienced loss after losing his father in 2021 and his older brother when he was 13. He is helping to build a playground and basketball court to provide kids with a safe place to play and serves as a role model for many of the children and young adults the organization works with. Because of his work with Kate’s Club, Okongwu was honored as the 2022 Mourning Glory Gala Honoree by the organization.
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Breanna Stewart, who plays for the New York Liberty, New York’s WNBA team, has always used her platform as a force for social change. In 2020, Stewart served as a strong supporter of the Black Lives Matter movement, using interviews and social media to call for social change. Using her social media platforms, Stewart urged people to register to vote and ensure their voices were heard. She also discussed the role of how athletes should use their platforms to support important causes in an interview with the New York Times. Stewart also showed up at many protests in 2020 in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. Since 2020, she has continued to use her social media platform to raise awareness for important causes and call for societal change.
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The Phoenix Mercury and Britney Griner announced on April 27th that they have partnered with the Bring Our Families Home campaign for the 2023 WNBA season to raise support and awareness for those who have been impacted by wrongful detainment in other nations. The campaign provides resources for families of those wrongfully detained while working to push the White House to take immediate action to bring detainees home. Griner, who experienced wrongful detainment in Russia and was released on December 8, 2022, wants to raise awareness for those who have been left behind, starting with this partnership that is symbolized in a mural that has been unveiled at the Mercury’s home arena, Footprint Center. At home games, the Mercury will host a letter-writing station where fans can write letters to help provide hope and encouragement for those wrongfully detained away from home. The partnership has also helped create a hub of information about how people can support and remain updated on the Bring Our Families Home campaign. More information about the campaign and the efforts of the Phoenix Mercury and Britney Griner can be found at www.BringOurFamiliesHome.org.
These are only a few of the athletes dedicated to having a positive impact in their communities. They are using their platforms to raise awareness for causes that are important and help those who are underserved or disadvantaged. Without the fans, the sports industry wouldn’t exist and it is beautiful to see how athletes are giving back to those who give to them.