Athletes are pillars in their community. In the early days of American sport, before players received multi-million dollar contracts, endorsements, and TV Shows, it wasn’t terribly uncommon to see one of your heroes out on the town living life just like you. Since the 70’s, though, athletes (especially the best) have risen to a new mythic status. And even though some players may still be living in mansions outside of the cities, many of them have still found a way to give back.
Let’s take a look at the NBA. Millions of people are tuning in to what is one of the best conference finals the NBA has seen in years. In the West, the Oklahoma City Thunder are taking on defending champion Golden State. With top flight names going at it night after night, the winner of this series will most likely take on Cleveland in what will be another great NBA Finals matchup. While the on-court action is dominating discussion of these teams, their off the court contributions are just as noteworthy.
In OKC and San Francisco, these players and their clubs are giving back to the kids who adore them so much. In Oklahoma City, Turkish player Enes Kanter was contacted by an Elementary school teacher (also of Turkish background) and came to the school to introduce the kids to a culture they may have been unfamiliar with. He read a popular Turkish children’s book, and hosted basketball-related activities in the gym. Kanter, the teacher noted, served as a role model for the kids. The influence of athletes is great indeed! Russell Westbrook also got involved with a local school; he also surprised some kids over the PA system with words of encouragement during the last stretch of testing. It’s difficult to quantify what these kinds of encounters can do for kids but you can’t deny there is something special about seeing their faces light up like that.
The team also went out to work on community service projects with the Boys and Girls Club of Oklahoma. Their contributions included painting murals, cleaning up gardens, and fixing up basketball courts. Players let their personalities and comedic sides shine— especially star forward Kevin Durant, who has been nominated as a finalist for the NBA Cares Community Assistance Award.
Up in San Francisco, the Warriors are also getting involved with the surrounding the community. Through their Makin’ Hoops program, the team sponsors the construction of basketball courts in underserved areas of the community— any kid knows how frustrating it is to play on a crumbling court! Through their Share Your Seats initiative, the Warriors donate what would be unused tickets to families that can go to the games.
But the Warriors’ outreach programs don’t just revolve around athletics. Through Scholars of Tomorrow, the organization promotes the importance of higher education and promotes a discussion that some students may not have at home. This past year, Jason Thompson and Assistant Coach Chris DeMarco hosted a “PTA” night, where they encouraged questions about college and professional development.
While there can only be one winner of the series, everyone wins when these local heroes step off of the court.