NBA All-Star connects entertainment with a commitment to social impact

Winford Hunter

The 2023 Jordan Rising Stars participate in NBA Cares Day of Service as part of the NBA’s commitment to social impact at All-Star weekend.

It has been 30 years since NBA All-Star was last held in Salt Lake City. A lot has changed since 1993 – from the city in which this year’s festivities will take place, to the game itself, and the players that will take center stage over the weekend.

In fact, of this year’s 27 All-Stars – 24 selected by fans, media, players and coaches, as well as three injury replacements selected by NBA Commissioner Adam Silver – only eight were alive the last time Utah hosted the NBA’s midseason celebration of the game.

The return of NBA All-Star to Salt Lake City not only brings the best basketball players on the planet to Utah’s capital city, it brings the NBA’s commitment to unifying communities through service, philanthropy and the game of basketball. As much as this weekend is about showcasing the game with spectacular plays and various competitions, it is also about making an impact in the host city that will be felt long after Sunday’s 72nd NBA All-Star Game is over.

The NBA’s social impact efforts at All-Star will focus on youth, education, food insecurity and economic inclusion, while also continuing the league’s efforts to create more opportunities for students from Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). In total, the NBA and the National Basketball Players Association will contribute more than $3 million to the Utah and HBCU communities.

Youth and Education

The work actually began long before any of this year’s All-Stars made their way to Salt Lake City. As part of the NBA Legacy Project, the NBA partnered with State Farm to renovate a STEM education space and provide enhancements to the school gymnasium at Lincoln Elementary in South Salt Lake. It was completed and was dedicated on Thursday, Feb. 16. The STEM space includes new technology and books for the kids to use, while the gym renovations include new basketball hoops, equipment, lighting and flooring.

“When you say legacy, that’s exactly what it is, leaving a blueprint, and it’s going to have an impact on generations to come,” said Lincoln Elementary principal Milton Collins. “And so as long as the school remains open, it’s going to have a positive impact, just with the upgrades to the STEM lab, and of course, to the gym.”

The focus on uplifting local children through the game of basketball is at the core of the NBA’s efforts throughout NBA All-Star. Friday is the sixth annual Jr. NBA Day as the Jr. NBA will host up to 1,500 local youth across six school districts as members of the NBA family – including current and former NBA and WNBA players – will participate in basketball clinics focused on teaching the fundamentals and the values of the game.

The NBA is also continuing its long-lasting partnership with Make-A-Wish America to grant five wishes to families in the greater Utah community at NBA All-Star.

“At Make-A-Wish, we really depend on our partners like the NBA to directly fulfill our mission and our wish kids are some of the biggest fans of basketball because when given the choice to wish for anything, they’ve asked to be there at the All-Star game,” said Shaina Reeser, Director of Entertainment & Sports Relations at Make A Wish.

“What we know is that a wish can be really powerful for children who are battling critical illnesses in many ways. It can give them the strength that they need to fight, it can provide hope, and really just that forward-looking future that they know that they have something to fight for, to get better, to grow up. And the wish journey, which the NBA family is a part, of really gives them a piece of their childhood back. And every child deserves a childhood.”

Reeser recalled an incredible Make-A-Wish success story as a child named Austin wished to play his saxophone at the 2009 NBA All-Star Game in Phoenix. Not only did he get to play “Lovely Day” at All-Star, but he has also gone on to recover from his illness and is living a healthy, thriving life as a professional saxophonist today.

Food Insecurity

Friday also marks the 15th NBA All-Star Day of Service, a tradition that began in 2008 in New Orleans as the city recovered from the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. The focus of this year’s Day of Service in Utah is food insecurity, as the NBA teams up with Utah Food Bank, Volunteers of America and Bishop’s Central Storehouse to help provide critical resources to those in need in the Utah community. Over 500 volunteers, including current and former players, business partners and guests, will participate in projects such as sorting and repacking food donations to distribute to those in need and packing donations to support low-income students and families.

“Two of the most important tools that we have here in fighting hunger are education and awareness,” said Ginette Bott, President & CEO of the Utah Food Bank.

“By being able to use the expertise and the NBA’s professionalism to come to our facility, we know that people will notice in the background, it’s an organization that is here to help. The focus will be on NBA and those who will be here to enjoy the weekend. But for one brief moment, we’ll have the ability to be in front of people, and hopefully, give them the opportunity to stop and think about the mission. Think about what it is we do. And to remember that we’ll still be here doing that after this great incredible weekend is over.”

Each of the NBA’s partners for All-Star Day of Service help their communities in different ways. Bott discusses the Utah Food Bank’s focus on the “nutritional aspect of hunger” and how they look to distribute healthy food options to their families in need, especially those with young children who are still growing.

For Dan Benshoff, Chief Development Officer at Volunteers of America, Utah, the emphasis is more on the homeless population. “The three areas of focus that we have are homelessness, detoxification services, and mental or behavioral health services,” he said. “Our mission is to serve people in our community that are facing either or all of those situations.”

Bishop’s Central Storehouse is a massive storage facility that helps The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints help as many families as possible throughout Salt Lake City and the greater communities in Utah.

“The church is trying to work with different community agencies, the food banks, around helping people, helping families have healthy food to eat, no matter what their situation is,” said Sharon Eubank, Humanitarian Director with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. “So this project is really exciting. It benefits everybody in the community that can give and receive and allows us to have the NBA help in this which brings a lot of fun and excitement to it.”

Diversity and Inclusion

On Wednesday, Feb. 15, members of the NBA family – including former NBA player and LGBTQ+ advocate Jason Collins and former WNBA player and NBA Senior Vice President of Player Development Jamila Wideman – visited with youth members at Encircle and the Utah Pride Center as part of the league’s commitment to celebrating and supporting the LGBTQ+ community.

“I think having the NBA partner within the circle is monumental for us,” said Jordan Sgro, Interim Executive Director at Encircle. “First, because it shows the LGBTQ youth that we serve, that the NBA is also in their corner. And it sends a really powerful and impactful message that there are big, powerful corporations like the NBA, who are saying, ‘Hey, we see you, you’re valid, you’re enough and we support you through and through.’ That’s a really big deal. And the NBA is giving Encircle a microphone to share the work that we do so that more and more people know who we are and what we’re about. I mean, that’s a really big deal for us.”

In addition to supporting the LGBTQ+ community, the NBA is also continuing its ongoing commitment to uplifting diverse-owned businesses with a number of local events throughout All-Star weekend.

A highlight of this effort is the NBA Foundation Pitch Competition on Thursday, Feb. 16, as the Foundation in collaboration with the National Black MBA Association will host a live pitch competition highlighting emerging and existing Black entrepreneurs in the Salt Lake Community and beyond. These eight entrepreneurs will have the opportunity to network and receive feedback from influential business leaders from across the NBA family and compete for the chance to receive funding for their ventures.

HBCU Support

Grambling took home the victory, with a final score of 69-64.

The NBA also continued its support of HBCUs this All-Star weekend, with the effort highlighted by the second annual NBA HBCU Classic on Saturday, Feb. 18. The men’s basketball teams from Grambling State University and Southern University faced one another in a game broadcast on TNT, ESPN2, and NBA TV, and Grambling State came away with the win, 69-64.

NBA legends Willis Reed (who played at Grambling from 1960–64) and Bob Love (who played at Southern from 1961-65) served as honorary captains at this year’s NBA HBCU Classic.

“The Grambling State versus Southern rivalry runs deeps and tends to get more attention during football season for the Annual Bayou Classic but the rivalry during basketball season is just as intense,” said Reed. “Being an alumnus of Grambling State University, I am confident that the Tigers will come out on top because that’s what we do! I’m looking forward to the game against our rival Southern University and I look forward to bragging to Bob Love when the game is over.”

Both Reed and Love were excited for today’s players and their respective alma maters to experience NBA All-Star weekend and take advantage of this unique opportunity.

“The NBA platform is huge and the exposure both universities are receiving is so beneficial to both institutions,” said Reed. “Student-athletes get a chance to show their skills on the court and learn about career opportunities across the league.”

“It very important, this is going to give all of the young players a chance to be seen by all of the general managers and coaches across the country; and they’ll get to meet all of the All-Stars and they’ll find out what it takes to be to be an All-Star,” said Love. “This is a great experience for all of the players. I wish I had had that experience when I was coming up. I would have loved it.”

In addition to the NBA HBCU Classic returning for a second year, the HBCU Event Intern Program at NBA All-Star is also back for year two as 13 HBCU students will serve as NBA Event interns throughout the weekend. The students will gain valuable experience and have the opportunity to see behind the scenes of NBA All-Star in Salt Lake City through a variety of roles across various league office departments, all working together to pull of this massive event.

All-Star Game Charities

The culmination of NBA All-Star weekend is the clash between Team LeBron and Team Giannis.

The weekend culminates with the 72nd NBA All-Star Game on Sunday night from Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City where Team LeBron will face Team Giannis. Not only are bragging rights on the line, but each team will represent a local youth and family-serving organization with $750,000 in contributions to be determined by the outcome of each quarter and the eventual winner of the game.

Team Giannis is playing for Raise the Future, which works to give a loving home to children in foster care and provide resources to adoptive families. Team LeBron is playing for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Utah, which works to build positive mentoring relationships for local youth. You can read more about the efforts of these two organizations here.

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