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‘There’s so much more we can do’: How the NBA Foundation is investing US$300m to empower the Black community

Greg Taylor, executive director of the NBA Foundation, talks to SportsPro about some of the challenges of establishing the basketball league’s two-year-old charitable initiative and reflects on the progress made so far.

12 October 2022 Josh Sim

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In the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests in the US in 2020, which escalated after the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, the National Basketball Association (NBA) launched the first-ever NBA Foundation, a charitable initiative established with a mission of supporting the Black community.

Dedicated to creating employment and career advancement opportunities for young Black men and women, the charity was initially armed with a US$300 million fund from the league’s 30 team owners to be deployed over ten years. Two years on, the NBA Foundation has invested more than US$53 million into different non-profit organisations that all aim to help train, mentor and coach Black youths across the US and Canada.

Recently, the foundation celebrated its two-year anniversary by awarding 40 new and renewed grants totalling US$20 million, representing its largest grant round to date. All told, 136 grantees and 70,000 young people have benefitted from the initiative so far. Other early achievements have included the inaugural NBA x Historically Black Colleges & Universities (HBCU) Fellowship programme, which put 60 students from HBCU institutions into paid internship roles within the league office, and with several NBA franchises.

The current make-up of the NBA Foundation board reflects the widespread support it has across the league. It comprises Sacramento Kings forward Harrison Barnes and Philadelphia 76ers player Tobias Harris (pictured above), as well as New Orleans Pelicans governor Gayle Benson, Atlanta Hawks principal owner Tony Ressler and basketball legend Michael Jordan. The league itself is also heavily involved in the non-profit organisation, with other board members including NBA commissioner Adam Silver and Tamika Tremaglio, who is executive director of the National Basketball Players Association (NBPA).

The NBA Foundation was one of several initiatives established by some of North America’s major leagues following the period of unrest in 2020, but how does it work in practice? 

Helming the foundation is executive director Greg Taylor, who prior to taking up his current role served as the NBA’s senior vice president of player development. Ahead of his appearance at the Leaders Week sports business conference, SportsPro made the short trip to the NBA’s London offices to ask Taylor some questions about the NBA Foundation’s work so far and how it plans to have an even greater impact going forward.

What were the challenges you faced at the beginning of forming the NBA Foundation?

Well, we came together during Covid-19, and so it was interesting in that while I have an incredibly small but mighty team, I didn’t meet them in person for the first six months. Imagine starting an organisation where you’re not in-person with folks.

We also had to think about strengthening the core operations of what the foundation was going to do, and finding the mission of the foundation. We grew out of the summer of 2020, and in the US there was a lot of social unrest, particularly around the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others. So identifying what our starting mission was going to be from a social justice standpoint needed a lot of internal conversations. I think that’s why being focused as we are on our mission is so powerful, because what it says is that a brand that’s recognisable and powerful as the NBA really wants to be a part of the solution of these historic issues.

I would argue that, while the individual murders of those young people were tragic, it also really showed, on videotape, the disparities that were happening in the American Black community. The league wanted to step in and do something as a response.

Greg Taylor, Executive Director, NBA Foundation

In the past, we were positive and powerful in the civil rights movement, and we’ve always had a social justice angle. So our work builds on the legacy of the NBA’s progressive history. We then had to do a good job in getting out in the community and letting people know who we are. The league and the brand carries a name, but people don’t know about the NBA Foundation. We wanted to get out, pound the pavement and meet partners. I’ve since given speeches over and over again to expose who we are to as many people as possible.

Those are the steps that we had to go through to go from a startup organisation to being the sustainable group that we are now. We’re very proud of the US$53 million committed over two years to date. We’ve helped 136 grantees and 70,000 young people. We think we’re on the right track in terms of progress.

In what areas have you been spending your initial ten-year budget of US$300 million?

Our mission is to promote economic opportunity for Black youth aged between 14 and 24 years old. There’s a couple of key ways to do this. One, we want to help young people obtain their first job coming out of post-secondary education and training, and then also to be able to really thrive in that career. So we try to invest in partnerships that are committed to preparing Black youth for employment opportunities in our 28 markets across the US and Canada, which is where we’re focused in terms of our footprint.

So the mission is to find organisations – particularly non-profit organisations – in the States. We can help them with their operation or programme costs so they become more effective, and also so they help engage those young people who are on that learning journey. We give out grants on an ongoing basis, which on average are worth around US$250,000 per year, to organisations who prepare young people for the world of work. We want to strengthen the organisations that we’re partnering with, and we want to accelerate outcomes for young people around employment and jobs – particularly for Black youth.

How satisfied are you with where the foundation currently sits and what you’ve been able to do as an organisation?

I’m very pleased with the progress today, but there’s so much more we can do. We know there are foundations far more established than ours that we would like to partner with and learn about the way in which they’re giving grants out. One thing we’re trying to do is to work with key companies that want to actually hire Black youth indifferently to respond to some of the economic challenges. We’d like to figure out if we can partner with those companies more formally, where there’s a real kind of sustained partnership over time as a growth area for us.

We also always want to raise additional revenue. We know that more revenue generates more opportunities. And we’re certainly in the process of fundraising to complement the initial investment from our governors. So I think all of those are challenges on the horizon for us. But I would say for the last 24 months or so, we’ve been working at a pretty steady clip. And I would thank my team, who are just extraordinary leaders, for the progress we’ve been able to achieve thus far.

From your viewpoint, what do the foundation’s goals look like from a practical lens?

There’s three ways that we’re measuring progress at a headline level. It’s kind of a holistic view that we take to economic opportunity. So we want to make sure that Black youth who would not have gone to college have the access to go there. We want to make sure that they have access to training, if that’s what they want to do, in terms of whatever the career industries that they’re interested in.

Secondly, it’s about workforce development. We know there are skills that you have to have in order to be employable, whether they are technical skills or soft skills, and also the knowhow to maneuver in a company. Thirdly, we actually want to be known for placing young people in jobs.

I would say access to education and training, professional skill development and actual job placement are the metrics that we’re trying to follow over time to make sure that we’re making the progress that we want.

How important is it to have player involvement on the board of the foundation and within its operations?

It’s absolutely critical. It starts with our two board members, Tobias Harris and Harrison Barnes, who have just been incredible ambassadors. Both have incredible reputations on their teams and in the league, so we’re really fortunate to have their participation. Tamika Tremaglio is also on the board as the new executive director of the NBPA.

So far, there have been 136 grantees and US$53 million invested by the NBA Foundation

All of that player perspective is really important, and I’m really fortunate that my previous job was over at the office of player development. So I actually have a pretty good relationship with a number of the players in the league and I can really try to reach out and suggest ‘we want you to also help source grant possibilities and organisations that we can ultimately invest in’.

A number of the grants we’ve given have actually come from players making those recommendations, so we want to certainly deepen and expand that.

What would you like to have achieved in the near future?

There’s a couple of things. We want to continue giving meaningful grants to the non-profit partners that we’re working with. What’s interesting now is if you look at the grants we’ve distributed so far is that we’re heavy in certain markets, like New York and Chicago and LA, [but] not so much in cities like Oklahoma City and Milwaukee – places that we know there are Black youth in local communities. What we want to do is really strengthen our work in those markets where we’re not as present. So I think that would be a real marker moving forward.

It really is about strengthening institutions that serve Black youth around economic opportunity. And it’s also about accelerating career outcomes for those young people who want those jobs.

Greg Taylor, Executive Director, NBA Foundation

So when the day is done, that’s what we’re in pursuit of. I’m pleased that we come at it from a holistic perspective. We want to help young people from an entrepreneurial perspective – first to college, then career training – all of those things we know are different touchpoints around this work. We think that all of that is really, really important. The best practice says there’s not one way to get to the job, but we want to give you lots of opportunities to get there. We call them stackable resources. So that’s what we’re trying to do in our markets on behalf of our young people.

Given all of the foundation’s work, what particularly gives you the most joy in your role?

There’s two things. I’m very pleased with the team that we’ve put together. They are distinct personalities, passionate and committed around the work. It’s always exciting to build something from the ground up and find likeminded souls that really want to do the work with incredible passion. So that’s very exciting, because I know it’s hard to find good people.

Secondly, it’s about the impact that we’re having in the lives of the young people that we’re working with through our grantee partners. I could go on and on in giving you examples of which partner is doing what, but when the day is done, the degree to which we’re touching the lives of those young people is incredibly fulfilling. Speaking on the recent HBCU fellowship, there’s a picture where they’re all standing in the cafeteria or the venue at the NBA offices in New York. In the picture, you just see those 60 young people ready to go, really excited about their careers, whether it’s going to be in sports or not.

So knowing that you’re helping to pave that professional road for them is incredibly rewarding, and certainly balances all of the difficult work you got to do to keep it moving.

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