This post was originally produced for Forbes.
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.
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.”
These NBA players may be full-time athletes, but they are also part-time social entrepreneurs finding ways to serve their communities.
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Devin is a journalist, author and corporate social responsibility speaker who calls himself a champion of social good. With a goal to help solve some of the world’s biggest problems by 2045, he focuses on telling the stories of those who are leading the way! Learn more at DevinThorpe.com!