SBJ/October 18-24, 2010/Leagues and Governing Bodies

NBA Cares evolving after 5 years of service

NBA Cares 2009NBAE / Getty Images
NBA Cares surpassed goals of 1 million service hours and $100 million in charitable donations.
The NBA Cares social responsibility program marks its fifth anniversary this week with the effort counting more than $145 million given to charity, far surpassing the $100 million goal set by the league when the initiative launched in 2005.

NBA Cares also has generated 1.4 million hours of hands-on service and has helped complete 527 “live, learn or play” projects, such as the construction of new homes, the creation of reading and learning centers, and the development of new or refurbished basketball courts.

When NBA Commissioner David Stern announced the creation of NBA Cares on Oct. 18, 2005, the five-year plan was to generate 1 million hours of service and build 100 “live, learn or play” projects — a term created by the league for the program — as well as donate $100 million to charity.

“NBA Cares is what we had hoped it would be, not necessarily what we thought it would be,” Stern said. “It has become a descriptive phrase for our social programs. Because of what we do and who we are, we are obligated to become leaders in social responsibility, and NBA Cares has become the central focus of our obligation.”

Looking ahead, Kathy Behrens, the NBA’s executive vice president of social responsibility and player programs, would not disclose specific future spending goals, but said NBA Cares increasingly will focus on the league’s NBA Fit program, which targets improving youth health, and addressing environmental issues.

“The [NBA Fit] program is becoming important and so is our green effort,” Behrens said. “Five years ago, [green] wasn’t on our radar screen.”

Before 2005, while the NBA was involved in charitable works such as its Read to Achieve program and its Basketball Without Borders effort, there wasn’t a single program that brought all of the league’s, the teams’ and the players’ charitable doings together. NBA Cares became that umbrella operation that also provides flexibility for teams and players to select their own local community partners.

“We obviously have surpassed our goals, but it wasn’t as much about the numbers as it was about believing in the importance of getting our teams, players and employees out in the community,” Behrens said. “[NBA Cares] has deepened the connection to the community and strengthened the opportunity for our players to give back.”

NBA Cares is aligned with a variety of charitable programs, with the league’s list of 40 community partners including UNICEF, the Boys and Girls Clubs of America, Habitat for Humanity, and KaBoom! playgrounds.

“The partnerships are on both sides,” Behrens said. “We think we partner with the most well-respected organizations in the world. We didn’t want to recreate the wheel. We want to find great organizations, shine the light on them, and let them do their work.”

While funding outside charitable efforts, the NBA also emphasizes direct team and player involvement in local, national, and international causes as part of NBA Cares, which is led by Behrens and a 12-member staff.

“The NBA above all other leagues has been philanthropic in a strategic way,” said Caryl Stern, chief executive officer of the U.S. fund for UNICEF and who is unrelated to the NBA commissioner. “There is a dedicated strategy on how they support us on a number of different levels. It is not just writing a check. They want to see results, and I am in touch with the NBA on almost a weekly basis.”

One of the more notable efforts in the five-year history of NBA Cares was the league’s Day of Service project centered on the 2008 NBA All-Star Game in hurricane-ravaged New Orleans. The high-profile program included players, league sponsors and league employees participating in a rebuilding effort throughout the city. The project proved so successful that it has become a staple of subsequent All-Star weekends.

“Katrina was impactful, and helping families during [All-Star] weekend resonated with players and staff, and that piece is still important to us,” Behrens said.

The NBA’s creation of this singular charitable mission has been noticed by other leagues, which have worked to boost their charitable efforts in recent years as well. Major League Baseball, for example, has created its Beyond Baseball charitable program, while the NFL, NHL and MLS have beefed up their own social responsibility efforts in the past few years.

“Whether it is called community relations or social responsibility, leagues around the world are engaged,” David Stern said. “World Cup and Olympics bids now talk about social responsibilities and legacies, and we have helped redefine the definition of private participation in social responsibility.”
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