The Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Social Justice Champion Award, founded by the the National Basketball Association, highlights the league’s players that have been using their platform to effect social change and help make strides in the fight for equality, not only in their communities but also our broader society. EBONY gathered this year’s finalists—Harrison Barnes, Tobias Harris, Jrue Holiday, Juan Toscano-Anderson, and the
“I remember when Philando Castile was tragically killed in St. Paul [Minnesota, in 2016],” Towns says. “I tried to bring the local kids together with police officers and high-ranking officials, and show them that not all cops are bad. They can be allies. They can be just like us. But it’s hard to keep practicing that message when Minneapolis cops are going through the same events with the same people I’m trying to reach. It’s just unfortunate. I grieve with the community as much as I possibly can.”
But Towns could no longer idly watch his community suffer and was moved to join the National Basketball Social Justice Coalition, a 12-person group of pro ballers, team governors, and coaches who meet and collaborate to bolster the league’s participation in social justice work. The coalition was formed on the heels of NBA players refusing to play in games in the NBA bubble last August. The athletes felt the league’s previous social justice efforts were ineffective; they wanted more action from team governors on issues that affected their communities. After days of negotiations with the league leaders about boosting those efforts, such as increasing voter registration marketing and using NBA arenas as polling locations, the pro ballers returned to play and finished the season once their demands were met.