In a way, NBA stars are very available to their fans. Only five positions, crowds so close they literally touch the playing surface, the visibility of NBA players is beyond comparison to other leagues.
With added recognition comes added attention. The more players bring that attention to charitable causes and give back, the more fans love them and want more. And the NBA sure loves to use their recognizable faces to give back – to the tune of 3.5 million hours of hands-on community service by players and coaches through NBA Cares, the league’s charitable arm.
Since 2005, NBA players have helped NBA Cares raise more than $270 million for charity and build more than 995 places where kids and families live, learn, and play around the world.
Amazingly, all of this charity just scratches the surface when you examine individual player foundations and efforts. According to data from LookToTheStars.org, NBA celebrities have recognized this charity slam dunk, turning attention away from themselves and toward fans in need.
Below is a rundown of the most charitable NBA athletes and the people they help prosper.
Most Supported Charities
According to LookToTheStars.org, the organization with the most support from current and former NBA players is the Boys & Girls Clubs of America. The organization annually serves about 4 million children in more than 4,100 facilities throughout the country.
Founded in 1860 on the belief that character development is essential to future success, the central tenants of the Boys & Girls Clubs are God, America, and the Constitution. In their gymnasiums, fair play, honesty, and sportsmanship are stressed.
Support of the clubs – which many players credit for developing their skills when other city courts were either too dangerous or nonexistent – is so widespread in the NBA that at least 40 players have been inducted into the organization’s Alumni Hall of Fame – about 20 percent of the total inductees. The list includes Shaquille O’Neal, Michael Jordan, Spud Webb, James Worthy, Bill Russell, and more.
The biggest benefactor and current “Champion of Youth” for the clubs is The King himself, LeBron James. His namesake foundation has, over the years, donated more than $3 million, outfitted 59 youth basketball teams, and renovated 23 gymnasiums and learning centers.
In addition to his nationwide support of the Boys & Girls Clubs, LeBron’s foundation has, for five years now, sponsored a program called Akron I Promise. Its goal is to help local youth in a variety of ways in return for fulfilling school attendance and grade requirements.
In 2015, Akron I Promise announced it will be sponsoring scholarships to the University of Akron – at about $40,000 per child – for every current elementary and middle school student in the Akron public school system that meets LeBron’s requirements. It is estimated that as many as 2,300 children will receive the scholarships.
Second among favorite charities for NBA players, and especially a favorite of players with foreign backgrounds, is the United Nations Children’s Fund, otherwise known as UNICEF.
Dikembe Mutombo (Democratic Republic of Congo), Pau Gasol (Spain), Serge Ibaka (born in DRC, moved to Spain at age 17), Samuel Dalembert (born in Haiti, moved to Canada at age 14), and Kyrie Irving (Australia) all choose to make UNICEF their charity priority.
UNICEF is the outreach and support arm of the United Nations General Assembly, with a mission to advocate for the protection of children’s rights, to help meet their basic needs, and to expand their opportunities to reach full potential. Since its creation in 1946 post–World War II, UNICEF has aimed to provide food and shelter for the most disadvantaged children – victims of war, disasters, extreme poverty – while promoting equal rights for women and minority groups.
Perhaps the most unique collaboration between NBA Cares and UNICEF is “Nothing But Nets,” a program founded in 2006 to combat malaria worldwide. Since then, they’ve raised more than $56 million to help deliver more than 9 million bed nets. For a 2015 event, Stephen Curry made a trip to Tanzania to donate 38,000 bed-nets at a refugee camp.
In addition to Nothing But Nets, NBA Cares and UNICEF sponsor basketball and life-skills camps around the world through a program called Basketball Without Borders.
Athletes With a Diverse Charity Profile
A lot of athletes, with constant requests coming at them from all angles, choose to spread the love and give to more charities in a year than most do in a lifetime.
GOAT Michael Jordan, owner of the Charlotte Hornets, uses his legend (and his legendary wealth) to support 14 different charities, topping fellow retirees Steve Nash (12) and Magic Johnson (10) in the double-digit charity club.
Another retired legend, Dikembe Mutombo, has often been named the most generous athlete in the world. Mutombo has donated more than $30 million since becoming an NBA legend – he’s built an entire hospital in the DRC, paid for the flights of the DRC women’s basketball and track teams for the Atlanta Olympic Games, and initiated plans to build a school in the DRC. He also bought the track team’s uniforms.
Even the Round Mound of Rebound, Charles Barkley (supporting seven different charities), changed his tune on being a role model when his NBA career was all said and done.
In fact, there must be some extra empathy in the Hall of Famer retirement home water: Of the top 10 players associated with multiple charities, 8 have plaques in (or are likely locks to get in) Springfield, Massachusetts, and all 10 are retired.
NBA Cares Initiatives
On the league level, NBA Cares works with internationally recognized programs that support youth education, families, and health care, including Reading Is Fundamental, Habitat for Humanity, Charities Aid Foundation, Feed the Children, and many others.
Using data from looktothestars.org, we analyzed which charities and athletes were associated with each other to see which causes athletes cared about the most.