Professional basketball is a booming sport in the United States. Commissioner Adam Silver, has made it a point to keep his finger on the pulse of his many audiences, as he tries to maneuver through a trying political and cultural climate. And yet, regardless of what goes on around the game of basketball, the league has managed to not only avoid any major scandals but also enact a degree of change themselves.
This change happens when players do not take the tremendous opportunity they have at their fingertips for granted. As millionaire athletes playing in front of the entire nation on a nightly basis, there are few platforms with more potential than that of a professional basketball player. As promoted by Commissioner Silver, players have become motivated to use not only their physical talents on the court but the power of their actions off of it.
Today's game features many players who have made it a point to give back to various communities and groups of people. From third-string players to perennial All-Stars, there is no shortage of philanthropy in professional basketball.
Additionally, many players have made it their duty to enact change in areas that they feel passionately about, which greatly helps the image of the league as a whole. Here are some of the stars whose accomplishments have positively affected others, both on and off the court.
DeMarcus "Boogie" Cousins is one of the brightest stars in all of professional basketball. As a multi-talented center, he is a key cog to the New Orleans Pelicans team with playoff aspirations this season. Boogie does not only reserve his best performances for the hardwood, though.
Cousins has become known throughout his career as one of the most charitable players in the entire league. For several years while he was with the Sacramento Kings, DeMarcus held a basketball camp for underprivileged youth in the Sacramento area.
The three-day camp, which was free for all campers, featured over 150 young players, who all received a pair of protective eyeglasses as he teamed up with sponsors to launch the event. Cousins then finished off the camp experience by donating nearly $30,000 to Sacramento High School, which funded a new scoreboard for the gym. Furthermore, not only did he throw this event in Sacramento, but he held another one in Mobile, Alabama, where he was born and raised.
DeMarcus Cousins's philanthropy does not stop at his annual basketball camp. In 2013, after signing a mega-extension with the Kings, he donated one million dollars to local Sacramento charities. A few years later, Cousins paid for the funeral expenses of a high school football player from the area who had been tragically killed before his team's playoff game. Boogie asked that his act of kindness be kept anonymous, but a City Council member revealed the identity of the star center during a candlelight vigil.
A year after covering the cost of the football player's funeral, DeMarcus decided to try to mend the relationship between the community and law enforcement in his hometown of Mobile. He funded this public discussion, entitled "Break the Silence, Build the Trust: A conversation on police and community relationships," helping to heal the testy connection between the two parties.
Though he has often asked for anonymity when it comes to his philanthropy, Cousins has drawn praise all the way up to Capitol Hill. In September of 2016, Bradley Byrne, a Congressman from his area of Alabama, made it a point to thank DeMarcus while he had the floor, for his charitable work in his hometown.
He stated, "Like many communities across the nation, my hometown of Mobile has faced our share of racial challenges, but thanks to local leaders and leaders like DeMarcus, Mobile can serve as a prime example of how to diffuse racial tension and increase understanding between all members of the community." This level of praise for philanthropic work has not been reached by many star athletes, showing that DeMarcus Cousins is far more than just an elite center in today's game.
Kevin Love has evolved from an All-American at UCLA, to the All-Star centerpiece of the Minnesota Timberwolves, to a champion with the Cleveland Cavaliers. The 6-foot-10 power forward has altered both his body and his style of play in order to fit into today's fast-paced and highly skilled form of professional basketball. Another thing that has progressed throughout his career is his philanthropy, as he has developed just as many chops off the court as he has on it.
Since Love was drafted by the Timberwolves, he has made it a point to give back to the community. As a result, he was awarded the 2013 Kia Community Assist Award, which is awarded annually to the player with the most exemplary record of philanthropy.
At this point, Love had hosted five annual Kevin Love Coat Drives. During the frigid winter months in Minnesota, he was able to collect nearly 3,000 coats, which he then personally transported to the Salvation Army. In addition, Love helped raise money for child cancer research, as well as research for various other life-threatening diseases. His partnership with St. Jude's Hospital helped make this happen, and his charitable work is something that he took with him after he was traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Love has created his own foundation entitled SpreadLove. This organization's message and goal are simple. They aim to change the world in a positive way through promoting acts of charity and kindness.
They hope to help in a variety of ways, as the "Starting 5" issues they want to tackle are listed as fitness, education, animals, environment, and health. SpreadLove does this by making these actions fun for those who perform them.
As Kevin said, "When I started SpreadLove, I wanted to create something that inspired people to do good in their communities. With this program, I hope to continue that mission and empower high school students to give back, to show them they can change their communities through small and big acts of kindness.
In 2015, Love's foundation teamed up with unite4:good in order to create the spreadlove4:good program, whose focus is consistent with Love's own organization. This new program created a points system in which various other charitable organizations would be assigned to one of the "Starting 5" causes. The group who accrued the most points over a four-month period through their acts of kindness would receive a prize from Love and his foundation.
In 2016, Love participated in the Cleveland Cavaliers' annual Big Shots and Little Stars fundraiser, which raises money towards child cancer research. The players teamed up with their "Little Star," which is a child battling a serious disease, and had a photo shoot with them, making them feel full of swagger.
Love has attended every year he has been with Cavaliers, this year joining 8-year-old Andrew Caronchi for the event. Regardless of how the rest of Kevin Love's career goes, one thing is clear. He has touched more lives during his time as a pro than most players have in the history of basketball.
Harrison Barnes has established himself as one of the brightest up-and-coming players in the sport. After spending the early part of his career on the Golden State Warriors, Barnes got a chance to have more of a feature role with the Dallas Mavericks. Barnes responded by setting a career high in points, showing that this 25-year-old Finals champion may just be discovering the depth of his talent pool.
One area where Barnes has been flourishing for quite some time now is in his philanthropy. In 2014, the Golden State Warriors began recognizing the player who makes the most effort in the community and in his charity work by creating the Alvin Attles Community Impact Award. Barnes was awarded this honor as a result of his tremendous impact on the community.
As Harrison said, "It's a huge honor to be presented with this award. Throughout the season, I've tried to connect with our great fans and give back to the community. Giving back to the community is something I've always believed in, so to receive this accolade in the name of a Warriors legend means a lot to me, and I'm glad I am able to help out the Bay Area."
Partnering with the Boys & Girls Club of America, Barnes was responsible for donating nearly 700 tickets to Warriors games throughout the course of that season. Additionally, he was able to make a young boy named Cole dream come true through the Make-A-Wish Foundation. After inviting him to a game, Harrison treated him and his family to dinner and even found some time to play video games with him.
Often times, it is the little things that count. The larger, planned events are still tremendous, but you could make the case that the smaller, more spontaneous acts of charity are more meaningful.
Harrison performed one of these acts in 2015, and while he was nursing an ankle sprain, no less. During some free time, he found a youth girls' basketball team at a nearby Dick's Sporting Goods Store and decided to treat them all, giving each player a gift card with $150 on it. That same week, he took 20 children who were part of the Boys & Girls Club of Oakland on a shopping spree.
Another example of Harrison's generous involvement with the community came this winter. Working with the Dallas Mavericks, the boys and girls basketball teams at 10 Dallas area high schools were identified to receive protective gear for the season. Every player on every team received Shock Doctor basketball mouthguards and McDavid HEX(r) arm and leg sleeves. Barnes announced the donation at Lincoln High School in Dallas, saying, "The game is becoming more physical and more competitive at a younger age, and the best ability is availability."
While the 25-year-old forward is just starting to hit his stride on the hardwood, in the community, he has long been one of the most formidable forces in the entire league.
There are a variety of philanthropic programs that professional basketball players are a part of. Be it the Make-A-Wish Foundation, the Boys & Girls Club, St. Jude's, VSP Vision Care, or a personal foundation, the motivation is the same.
Charitable work is not lost on today's professional basketball players. Stars like Kevin Love, DeMarcus Cousins, and Harrison Barnes are not famous simply for their athletic prowess. Their true lasting impact might end up being on the communities they have so devotedly worked to enact change in.
This level of philanthropy is contagious. With more players every day doing their part to contribute and give back, others may follow suit, both in professional basketball and in the community. Barnes himself said that the personal experience in which he was taken on a shopping spree as a boy inspired him to take those youths out for a day of shopping.
Hopefully, popular organizations like the Boys & Girls Club and St. Jude's can continue to draw interest from charitable pro players who are wanting to make a difference. With any luck, some of these stars can leave a lasting mark, not only on the organizations they play for but also on the world we all live in.