Basketball has always been a great unifier of the Black community. Whether it’s pickup games, higher-level aspirations or sharing the love for a long-cherished team, the sport brings people together in a way that little else can. 

At its core, the National Basketball Association (NBA) has always contributed to that. 

From its early days, the NBA has strived to create a legacy even bigger than the game itself. Throughout its history, the organization has seen significant cultural moments and even led the charge when facing some of the most prevalent issues in the community. With the upcoming landmark 75th Anniversary season, the NBA is looking to take its vision even further and elevate its efforts to create change in the future. 

The year-long campaign will celebrate the work the NBA has done — through its players and within communities worldwide — to keep its finger on the pulse and stay innovating and cultivating action at a community level. “We are excited to celebrate the incredible plays that leave us in awe and the impactful community work from players and teams. And we look forward to continuing this storytelling into the season,” says Kate Jhaveri, the NBA’s Chief Marketing Officer.

While the official start of NBA season might not be until October 19, that doesn’t mean the organization and many key favorites aren’t already putting in work, on and off the court. 

You wouldn’t have to search for long to learn about some major movements the NBA has contributed to in distant and recent history. In a special partnership with the organization, we’re looking at key cultural moments it’s led, driven by passionate players and entire teams who know all about keeping the community at the heart of the game. 

Eye on the Past

The Black Fives

One of the biggest events for the sport — and the community — was the introduction of the “Black Fives Era.” This marked the beginning of a change for the entire face of basketball: when the color barrier was broken. By the time Earl Lloyd became the first Black player to join an NBA game in 1950, teams like the Harlem Rens, Washington 12 Streeters and Harlem Globetrotters had been laying the groundwork to integrate the sport for at least 50 years. 

NBA Cares

President Barack Obama at the 2020 NBA Cares All-Star Day of Service

Caption: President Barack Obama at the 2020 NBA Cares All-Star Day of Service

In an ongoing effort to maintain a connection with their communities, basketball players, coaches and legends have supported communities globally through NBA Cares, the league’s global social responsibility program that unites people through the game. Created in 2005, the league, players, legends and teams continue to shine a light on important social issues including racial, gender, LGBTQ & health equity; education, physical and mental health and wellness; environmental responsibility; and youth, family and community development. 

Together, the NBA family has provided over 5.8 million hours of hands-on service and created more than 1,775 places around the world where kids and families can live, learn or play by working with nationally and internationally recognized youth-serving programs such as Boys & Girls Clubs of America, Vera Institute of Justice, Thurgood Marshall College Fund, UNICEF, Special Olympics, The Jed Foundation, Share Our Strength and GLSE, among others. 

Additionally, every month, the NBA Community Assist Award, presented by Kaiser Permanente, recognizes a player who’s dedicated to hands-on community service and finding ways to make a difference in the lives of kids and families in the United States and globally. Ultimately, one player is named the Seasonling winner for their continued commitment to their community over the course of the season. 

Making Moves in the Present

It’s no secret that we’re living in a time that calls for more community action than ever. Tackling issues of homelessness, education and social justice, many players are out here meeting the moment and setting the bar for what it looks like to give back. We’ve seen that in LeBron’s I Promise school, which aims to close the achievement gap in Black and Brown students in his native Akron, Ohio, and Steph Curry’s program to end child hunger and provide access to healthy play and education. Other players, like Jrue Holiday, are investing in Black-owned businesses by donating from their own salaries. 

The NBA and National Basketball Players Association (NBPA) have even formed the National Basketball Social Justice Coalition, which focuses on impacting real change in policing and criminal justice reform, as well as improving voting access at the national, state and local levels. 

Creating Change for the Future

Even as many communities look ahead to a future that holds the promise of a new, more socially conscious era, there remains some uncertainty about how to build upwards. With this in mind, the NBA has focused efforts around the NBA Foundation, founded in August 2020, which hopes to drive greater economic empowerment for Black youth. In its first year, the NBA Foundation has awarded 40 grants, totaling $11 million, to organizations in 10 markets and six national organizations.  

NBA Foundation Grantee: City Year - dedicated to helping students and schools succeed.

Caption: NBA Foundation Grantee: City Year - dedicated to helping students and schools succeed.

To give a lift to real changes on the social justice front, the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Social Justice Champion Award highlighted five finalists in its inaugural year. A committee selected finalists based on their heartfelt dedication to engage, empower and drive equality for individuals and groups who have been historically marginalized or systematically disadvantaged. 

The NBA named 10-time NBA All-Star, entrepreneur and philanthropist Carmelo Anthony (formerly of the Portland Trailblazers) as the inaugural Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Social Justice Champion. On his behalf, $100,000 will be donated to the Portland Art Museum’s Black Arts and Experiences Initiative. Anthony was selected from a group of five finalists that included Harrison Barnes, Tobias Harris, Jrue Holiday and Juan Toscano-Anderson. 

As an organization that’s been putting in the work for over 75 years, the NBA stays conscious that the real work is never done. And just like the game stays moving and always raises the bar higher and higher, the NBA continues to elevate the players and participants who are making a difference in their communities. 

Check out even more of the community initiatives that the NBA has been working towards, and stay tuned for more news about the NBA Foundation

This editorial is brought to you in partnership with the NBA.