NBA Foundation Executive Director Greg Taylor lives a life of philanthropy and basketball. He strives to be a positive example but also provides opportunities where it seems none existed before. With this in mind it should come as no surprise he has helped spearhead the creation of the NBA Foundation and guided the organization through its first year. It has been a long year since the NBA Foundation was born during the NBA’s bubble in Orlando, but a satisfying year of growth and enrichment both for Taylor personally and the communities receiving the grants.
Taylor was kind enough to give me a few minutes to talk about the NBA Foundation’s first year, its mission going forward, and the history it represents. Taylor started by explaining he was “incredibly humbled to be in a leadership position to help steward the NBA Foundation. My career has been in both philanthropy and obviously working with the NBA on the player development side. It is a labor of love.”
The NBA Foundation was born into a country dealing with social unrest in the streets and highlighted economic inequalities exacerbated by the pandemic. Taylor said “Going back to the bubble in Orlando while there was a lot of social unrest in the country, certainly the league has a rich history around social justice. I would argue the moment the Milwaukee Bucks decided not to play in the bubble in Orlando was a real inflection point if you will in terms of what it is the league could be doing on behalf of social justice issues in this country to really help and use our platform for the greater good.”
“Our focus on economic opportunity for black youth really grew out of both that history I’ve mentioned and that moment in the bubble where the players decided not to play. I think the pandemic has been a very interesting backdrop. I think it has highlighted inequities in many ways and I think there are organizations in the country that are doing well but there are some that are struggling. We have a particular focus on working with organizations that are in communities like New Orleans and our other 28 NBA markets. We want to focus where we feel we have some level of partnership and current and activity by working in those 28 markets.”
Those markets have seen millions of dollars flow into community-supporting programs. There are two ways the NBA Foundation using grant dollars as Taylor detailed, “We are fortunate our grants are being used around capacity building dollars. We know we want to strengthen organizations that have tried to hang on through the pandemic. Some of our grant dollars go towards strengthening those operations. Others are focused on programmatic outcomes where we are really trying to accelerate learning opportunities for young kids. The pandemic has been something that we have been glad to be able to continue resource through. Prayerfully we’re coming to the end of it I hope but we’ve been active in that space and have a roster of really tremendous partners that continue to do great work.”
The NBA Foundation is a full team effort under Taylor. He credits having “a tremendous board both of NBA Governors as well as folks from the NBA Players Association. Tobias Harris, Harrison Barnes, Michelle Roberts (NBAPA Director) have been tremendous voices. Likewise, on the governors’ side, we’re blessed to have Gayle Benson, Michael Jordan, Larry Tanenbaum, and Tony Ressler.”
Part of the process is to help kids realize these opportunities are available. Regardless of market size, the kids have to see the opportunity before they know to chase the dream. The NBA partners with organizations with a “track record of success around helping the young people that participate in their organizations” and participants “really thrive in becoming contributing members of society. We are very excited about those partners.”
When asked about how market sized affected the NBA Foundation’s approach Taylor said, “The same issues and concerns and lack of resources that affect some of the organizations are similar whether you in a big city like New York or a smaller market like Oklahoma City. What we are trying to do is say there is genius everywhere. There are deserving black youth that deserves access to viable economic opportunity. There are tremendous non-profit and corporate leaders that care about these issues. What we are looking to do is try and partner. We want to build relationships at the local level between the NBA, companies that want to hire young black kids, and non-profits that have prepared those kids for the world. It’s about finding, supporting, strengthening, and investing in these organizations for the betterment of these young people.”
The NBA Foundation builds communities not just fanbases. Taylor said the board was “very fortunate that all of the groups we have worked with so far have been stalwarts and leaders in this space. We are focusing on our 28 markets in many ways because we feel the teams, their arenas, and the ancillary partners represent anchor institutions. If you think about the 28 markets the league operates in that urban and rural. East and West; North and South. In many ways it is a microcosm of America. If we can make progress around accelerating outcomes for black kids around economic opportunity in our market we will have done not a small feat.”
No small feat indeed. In fact, the NBA Foundation is only getting bigger, growing its reach and the roster of partners. While the initial investment from the NBA Governors was over a ten-year span at over $300 million Taylor revealed “the expectation is this is a foundation that will operate in perpetuity and we will grow our revenue to have a greater impact…I think 20 years from now we’re rolling, got a roster of organizations, and that we’ve impacted the lives in a meaningful way of the young people we are targeting.”
“We are growing, reaching, and touching more young people in a thoughtful manner. So many of our corporate partners are interested in trying to hire, educate, and prepare young people for effective employment. What I’m hoping is those partnerships between the NBA nonprofit organizations that have a history of preparing young people for work and those corporate partners have begun to work differently to help provide access and opportunity for the young people to have meaningful employment. We’d like to see young people in jobs giving back to the next generation to create ongoing opportunity.”
Part of the strategy is “Affirming storylines. We’d like to get the word out to the young people we’re after and working with really are leaders, champions that have incredible producing capability around whatever that laborforce skill is. That perceptional change is what we are after.”
Towards the end of our conversation, I asked what did Taylor wish more people knew about the NBA Foundation. His answer: “I would love for folks to understand we are open for business. NBAFoundation.com. We have a pretty rigorous selection process but we are a brand new entity announced during the pandemic…We still have work to do for folks to understand who we are and what our mission is and our value add moving forward. We work every day to build that brand recognition and reputation.”
Do something you love and you’ll never work a day in your life, so the saying goes. Taylor used the term “labor of love” multiple times during our conversation. You could feel the passion. After only a year of operations and under Taylor’s guidance, the NBA Foundation can see the positive results already. It cannot be counted, nor can it be overstated. Seeing those positive outcomes and providing more opportunities for the next generation is the big payoff for Taylor’s labor of love life of philanthropy and basketball.