Updated: Full Time Ball Players And Part Time Social Entrepreneurs
Devin Thorpe, Contributor
Young men thrown into the national spotlight for their athletic prowess in the NBA are also taking time to give back.
Sherrie Deans, the Executive Director of the National Basketball Players Association Foundation visited with me to share insights about the efforts of extraordinary athletes to make a difference, especially in the communities of their roots.
Deans points to the “current Isaiah Thomas” of the Boston Celtics, clarifying that she’s not talking about the Detroit Pistons legend of the same name, as one who has given back. Of the 5’ 9” Thomas, she says, “He is a tiny guy. He is not supposed to be in the league, by all accounts.”
Thomas renovated the gym of the Boys and Girls Club in his hometown of Tacoma, Washington. The theme of gym, “Pick me last again,” was inspired by Thomas’s unlikely rise to prominence in the league. The gym provides a safe place for kids to come play sports and participate in a range of other programs that help kids thrive in school and life.
He explained his motivation, saying, "I grew up playing at the Al Davies Boys and Girls Club and watched some of the older guys give back to the community with basketball courts, like Jamal Crawford. Once I had the opportunity to do this for my hometown I jumped at it because Tacoma is where I am from and I carry a piece of it each and every night I step onto the court. Being able to give back to the kids who are growing up now wanting to play basketball was something that I always dreamed of doing."
Thomas, who was picked last in the draft, explains what the theme means to him today. "The message “Pick Me Last Again!” means a lot to me because I’ve always had to overcome doubters who thought I wouldn’t make it to where I am today. It’s been a long time since the Draft so I do not think about day-to-day but it’s more about the determination and belief I had in myself to know I could make to being to where I am… on a Playoff team and 2X NBA All-Star."
Deans also shared that Dikembe Mutombo has a woman’s clinic in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, one of the most impoverished countries in the world, that is doing “transformational work.” Mutombo, who’s Twitter feed describes him now as the CEO of the Dikembe Mutombo Foundation, was born in Kinshasha, the capital. For this article, he described his motivation for doing the work he does there. “Because I am the Son of Congo, I want to improve the living conditions of the people.”
Deans says, “No one that knows Dikembe thinks that he is anything less than a giant of a figure. His impact off the court has been unbelievably amazing.”
Mutombo acknowledges that his work is making a difference. “I am very proud of my work. I was the first to build a premier hospital [in the DRC] in more than 45 years.”
Deans notes that Mutombo’s work there has inspired younger players from Africa to look for ways they can give back to their communities as well.
Deans says, “The NBPA Foundation highlights and accelerates the real and collaborative work that National Basketball players do worldwide to build their communities and create meaningful change.”
The NBPA Foundation is running a program called “#EverydayDad.” She explains, “One of the key initiatives of the NBPA Foundation is the recent launch of #Everyday Dad series to celebrate fathers and fatherhood and to provide inspiration for fans to celebrate their own relationships with their dads and their kids.”
Deans says, this is about “telling a different story.” She says the goal was to help fans see them not only as celebrity athletes but also as fathers. She acknowledges that it is also about changing narratives about men, particularly men of color. She says, “There is a prevailing narrative that there is a disconnection between these men and their families.” The message is intended to “inform a new narrative, not just for our players but for to provide a new way for people find themselves or see themselves.”
Thomas adds, "I am most proud of the way I can impact kids back home in Tacoma and in Boston my new home. I started a Mentorship effort in Boston, partnering with Mentor and Mass Mentoring Network to develop one-to-one relationships with deserving mentees in the area. I can use my platform and my experiences to help kids as they overcome adversity or barriers to their success and I’m really proud to be able to do that. Back home, I host a pro-am basketball tournament called Zeke End every year and I do that to bring basketball and basketball mentorship to the community of Tacoma. I’m extremely proud of both."
These NBA players may be full-time athletes, but they are also part-time social entrepreneurs finding ways to serve their communities.