Shooting for More Than Hoops Around the World

08/19/2010 01:55 pm 13:55:28 | Updated May 25, 2011

YouthGive contributing founder Satchel Yancey-Siegel, 16, is a junior at Tamalpais High School in Mill Valley, CA.

Last December I went to a Golden State Warriors game with my high school basketball team and had the opportunity to give Steve Nash, a two-time MVP NBA player for the Phoenix Suns, a high- five as he ran out onto the court. It felt really great to get that split-second of attention from a guy that I respect and admire as both a player and, even more importantly, as a committed humanitarian.

Nash started his own foundation in 2001 to aid underserved children in British Columbia, Paraguay, and Arizona where he lives. In a blog discussion for the non-profit Athletes for Hope, Steve Nash wrote about his own beliefs on why people are obligated to give back:

We're all on earth for a pretty short time -- some of us are born into communities with resources set in peaceful parts of the world, while others are born into conditions that make survival, let alone altruism, a goal riddled with struggle. If I have the luxury of comfort, shouldn't part of that comfort-time be devoted to helping someone else? Shouldn't we, as a people, aim to equalize the dichotomies out there so that everyone -- even the baby born into seemingly-abject poverty -- has a closer-to-equal shot? There's no one that's too busy to take time every day to help out someone else -- no one -- and how would we change if we took that on? What if people who have a lot shared just a little bit more to make sure that everyone has something?

Those questions by Nash reflect my own personal outlook on giving to others. Two summers ago I traveled to Africa on a teen philanthropy trip with an organization I helped to create called YouthGive in order to learn more about the important issues of access to clean water, microfinance, and malaria. In Zambia we visited a school that has a PlayPump water system, which is a merry-go-round that kids ride on to pump clean drinking water from the ground. The morning after arriving back in the Bay Area, I was inspired to use what I had learned and experienced in South Africa and Zambia and share it with my community and get more people involved. So along with other high school kids I organized an event called Points4Pumps that raises money through a basketball shoot-a-thon to build sustainable clean water systems in Zambia.

Over the past few years an increasing number of pro basketball players have traveled to Africa and other parts of the developing world to learn about the needs of the people there and are making a big difference. Here are a few notable actions taken by current and former NBA players:

•Earlier this month nine NBA players (including Dwight Howard and African natives DeSagana Diop, Luc Mbah a Moute and Hasheem Thabeet) volunteered for Basketball Without Borders in Senegal. The program teaches skills to top basketball players in Africa, while also distributing anti-malaria nets, building homes, planting gardens, and teaching health and education lessons.

•NBA Global Ambassador Dikembe Mutombo started his own foundation to improve health, education, and the quality of life in his native Congo. His foundation raised $29 million to build a modern hospital ($15 million was donated by Mutombo). His mother died in 1997 because she was unable to get to a hospital. "We all are here for a purpose," Mutombo has said. "My purpose is to make a difference to society, not just by being a good human being, but to contribute to lives. I'm changing lives and the living condition of my people."

Manute Bol, who stood at 7 foot 7 and died in June at the age of 47, will be remembered more for his work off the court by trying to make Africa and the world a better place. After retiring from the NBA, Bol worked for the organization Sudan Sunrise, which tries to bring about reconciliation primarily around Darfur. He also strongly supported the Alliance for the Lost Boys, whose mission it is to build schools, clinics and refugee camps in Southern Sudan and throughout Africa where Lost Boys and their families reside. In an interview, one of the Lost Boys said, "We were starving, many of us were dying from the lack of food, water and medicine or attacks by enemy soldiers and wild animals. One day, a famous athlete from America came to visit our camp. His name was Manute Bol, and he had been born and raised in Southern Sudan. When he saw us he bowed his head and cried for a really long time. He was very sad to see us that way." He kept his promise to return to help the children and only a few days later, food and medical care was flown in by helicopter into the village.

Tracy McGrady created the Darfur Dream Team, a partnership of organizations and professional basketball players working together on a Sister Schools Program to connect American middle schools, high schools, colleges, and universities with sister schools in 12 refugee camps in Chad.

Adonal Foyle, who retired this week after 13 years in the NBA, first started his path of community service in the San Francisco Bay Area while playing for the Golden State Warriors and winning various awards for his selfless giving attitude. He also started the Democracy Matters organization as an advocate for finance reform. Democracy Matters, situated in over 50 college campuses worldwide, teaches youth leadership skills in order for their voices to be heard. He started the Kerosene Lamp Foundation which empowers kids of the U.S. and Eastern Caribbean to help them deal with life struggles such as illiteracy, sexually transmitted diseases, and economic hardship.

I'm glad that athletes like these are making the time to travel and see for themselves the needs and opportunities in the world. By taking action they stand out as role models for others. As the NBA becomes a more global game, with players joining from all parts of the world, let us not only follow their basketball careers, but also learn from and join with those who advocate for game changing philanthropy.