NBA fandom has taken on a different look for many kids in younger generations. Rather than pledging undying loyalty to a particular franchise, kids are tying themselves to certain players and rooting for them wherever they go. How they choose their favorite players though is anyone’s guess. But with influences like the coolness of someone’s signature sneakers, their NBA 2K rating, or how good they are at talking trash on social media the reasons aren’t always perfect. So for dads with kids whose NBA loyalties are still malleable, we’ve come up with this list. While the league is full of exemplary young men, these are a few inspiring NBA players that stood out to us and would set a great example for any kid.
It was once controversially said of Jaylen Brown that he is “too smart” to play basketball. While that statement is problematic for a number of reasons, the one truth in there is that Jaylen Brown is an extremely intelligent person. Brown, since coming into the league, has lectured at Harvard and MIT on the importance of education and technology for children. Outside of basketball, the Celtics winger is an example of a well-rounded human as his interests and passions have allowed him to start businesses, work as a fashion designer, and become an inspiring advocate for racial equality.
Brogdon, a guard for the Indiana Pacers, is well known for being an active member of his community. An influential and unsung project is his Hoops2O initiative. Hoops2O, founded by Brogdon, raised $700,000 in its first 18 months and has provided clean water to some 70,000 people, primarily in water-scarce places in Africa. Brogdon is the most recent winner of the NBA’s J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award for his work leading “Tuesday Talks” where Brogdon speaks to at-risk youth about overcoming challenges, as well as for his new Brogdon Family Foundation which he launched to push for social justice in response to the George Floyd murder earlier this year.
Kevin Love has inspired many after he became one of the most high-profile athletes to talk about personal mental health struggles and the importance of mental health. While he consistently speaks and writes about mental health, Love also has started the Kevin Love Fund, which aims to help 1 billion people with emotional and physical well-being. Recently, he also donated $500,000 to the psychology department at UCLA, his alma mater, to help in the research and destigmatization of depression. Love, currently a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers, also donated, during the COVID shutdown of the NBA, to cover the wages of workers in his home arena for 1 month. This effort was also made by players not mentioned on this list like Zion Williamson, Blake Griffin, and Rudy Gobert.
LeBron is not just an advocate for Taco Tuesdays. LeBron is also an All-Star philanthropist. In Year 18 of his career, many may be suffering from LeBron fatigue, but our advice is to get over that and start appreciating this man’s accomplishments on and off the court before he eventually retires. James, of the defending champ Lakers, has done just about everything right in his career. Just take a look at the activism section of his Wikipedia page and tell us he isn’t deserving of applause. One example, LeBron’s foundation is set to donate $42 million in college scholarships to kids in his hometown. Be warned though, if your kid does choose LeBron as “their dude” prepare yourself for the inevitable G.O.A.T. debate.
While Giannis does a ton of charity work around Wisconsin, and in his home country Greece, you can direct your kids’ attention to his story. It’s hard not to feel inspired by Giannis’s meteoric rise to fame. Giannis grew up in poverty, so much so that he spent many of his days hawking goods on the streets of Athens. Eventually, Giannis saw basketball as a way out of poverty for him and his family, so he put his mind to achieving the improbable. Giannis went from not knowing how to dribble at age 13 to playing professionally in Greece by 15 then an NBA player by 19. When Giannis got his first NBA paycheck he couldn’t afford a cab to his game with the Bucks because he sent every dime to his family who were still in Greece at the time. Giannis was given a ride by some Bucks ticket holders who saw Giannis jogging to the arena. His journey gets even better, Giannis just became a 2-time MVP and the highest-paid player in NBA history, so we don’t think he’ll have any trouble getting to work ever again. His story is a great example for kids to see the results of hard work and being a good person.
One of the newest members of the Los Angeles Clippers, Serge Ibaka has made a name for himself as a nasty blocker and vicious defender. Off the court, Ibaka has made a long journey from childhood to the NBA including losing his mother at age 7, watching his father imprisoned during wartime in his native Congo, and often experiencing food insecurity as a child. These experiences influence his community work as he often runs food or meal drives for children and has started the Serge Ibaka Foundation that raises money for education and health for children in at-risk areas around the world. Ibaka is a strong addition to an influential line of African born players who aim to help the places they were born, joining Hall of Famers like Dikembe Mutombo and Hakeem Olajuwon.
Steph is easily one of the most liked players in league history. If he were president his approval rating would be off the charts. While his popularity stems from his free-shooting style, celebratory shimmies, and his size, which almost makes him look like one of us normal guys, Curry is a worthy role model for kids everywhere because of his eagerness to effect positive change where he can. Steph has been a long time contributor to the U.N.’s efforts to end malaria, going so far as to donate 3 insecticide-treated mosquito nets for every three-pointer he made, which, as NBA fans know, is a lot. Curry is also a proud girl dad, hosting an all-girls basketball camp, and also made headlines for taking the advice of a 9-year-old fan who criticized him for not releasing his new sneakers in girls’ sizes.
Unfortunately, due to injury, John Wall hasn’t been able to make too many highlight reels in recent years. But the new guard for the Houston Rockets hasn’t let that slow down his community efforts. Wall has notably worked to help end homelessness and was on the front lines of racial equality marches in DC, with his former teammate Bradley Beal, during the summer of 2020. Although, it is his work to combat Leukemia and Lymphoma, specifically in children, that has seen the most coverage. Here’s to hoping Wall can return to form and be an All-Star on the court again, and not just off it.
A Few Other Notes
Unfortunately, our list is only so long. While these 8 men are admirable we also suggest looking into some of the inspirational things being done by other players like Chris Paul, Gorgui Dieng, George Hill, Sterling Brown, and many others. We also left out some impressive work by recently retired, or soon to be retired players, like Pau Gasol, Joakim Noah, JJ Barea, and Luol Deng. If your son or daughter starts rooting for any of the inspirational NBA players we mentioned, you can feel good that their cheers are going to good people.