The ace-ed.org team recently sat down with Todd Jacobson – Senior Vice President of Social Responsibility for the National Basketball Association – to learn about his organization’s efforts to improve equity in K-12 schools and bring the lessons and values of sport to classrooms across the country. Read on to learn more about the tremendous work the NBA is doing to make a difference in the lives of young people.
Tell me about your role and your work?
As Senior Vice President and the Head of Social Responsibility for the NBA, I have the privilege of overseeing the global social responsibility efforts, community partnerships, and public service initiatives for the NBA and all of our affiliate leagues. This includes NBA Cares, the NBA’s global social responsibility program that builds on the league’s mission of addressing important social issues. In February, we dedicated our 2,000th Live, Learn or Play Center as part of NBA All-Star 2022 in Cleveland, a really special moment for me since as I was a part of the first-ever Live, Learn or Play Center when NBA Cares began in 2005.
Additionally, I get to manage the league’s government affairs, directing the NBA’s communication and engagement with the White House, State Department and United Nations. I also work closely with our regional offices to support the NBA’s international community engagement initiatives and collaborate with the NBA Foundation and the National Basketball Social Justice Coalition on our broader social impact work and strategy.
Why is improving equity in K-12 schools important for the NBA and WNBA?
The NBA’s mission is to inspire and connect people everywhere through the power of basketball, and we have a longstanding commitment to the communities where we live, work and play. Education is the foundation and interconnected with all aspects of life. We know that by using the resources, time and platform of the NBA family, we can make a difference in the lives of young people, their education and their eventual outcomes to become leaders in their communities and our society – just the way that our players, coaches and all across the NBA family grew up to be leaders in their own respective ways. An example of this is the NBA Foundation, the league’s first-ever charitable foundation dedicated to driving economic opportunity for Black youth ages 14-24 through investing in organizations that promote school-to-career and workforce development opportunities.
What are you hoping to achieve with your work in this space?
Our goal through this work is to not only utilize the game of basketball to help better engage with students and teachers to make learning fun, but to also introduce them to the many lessons you can learn through sports and highlight the many types of jobs you can have working in sports. Sports teaches the values of teamwork, respect and inclusion – there is so much to be gained when you look closely at the ways athletes work together with one another, but also within their communities. Additionally, as evidenced is some of our Virtual Field Trip programs with Discovery Education, there are so many people that bring the NBA and WNBA to life in roles that are both on- and off-the-court. We hope this work introduces students to careers in sports that expand well beyond being a player or coach, but utilizes other skills and knowledge in math, science, technology, writing, design and more to bring our game to life.
What are some of the programs you’ve launched?
The NBA continues to use basketball to promote education, bringing the lessons and values of sport to classrooms across the country. This year, we launched the NBA and WNBA Game Changers platform with Discovery Education, a five-part video series featuring current NBA and WNBA players, former players, and coaches who have used their voices to create positive change for themselves and others. The virtual program includes a new video and curriculum each month that will provide historical context around a cultural celebration or moment in sports while exploring current social justice and equity issues we face today. Lessons from this program include Black history, Women’s history, mental health, financial literacy and more. In the past, we’ve also collaborated on Virtual Field Trips that introduce students to a variety of NBA and WNBA professionals whose careers paths use creativity, collaboration, critical thinking, and communication skills.
Working closely with State Farm, we have also collaborated on the State Farm Assist Tracker program for the past seven seasons, turning every assist made during a regular-season game into a donation to enhance STEAM learning and technology in classrooms across the country. As part of the program, the NBA and State Farm work with Learn Fresh to create a five-lesson experience for students and educators across the country that introduce students to the real-life applications of STEAM topics, engages them to be better citizens in their schools and local communities, and encourages them to follow along with the State Farm Assist Tracker logs and league’s current assist total at stats.nba.com.
One more example is NBA Math Hoops – a fast-paced basketball board game, curriculum, and event series for students in grades 3-8. Led by Learn Fresh participants learn fundamental math skills through direct engagement with their favorite NBA and WNBA players’ statistics, competing in an in-class basketball league against their peers.
How are NBA and WNBA players embracing this initiative?
Not only are NBA and WNBA players leaders on the court and in their communities, but they were once students in the same seats as these young people. They have embraced using their voice and platform to encourage young people to make the most of their opportunities.
Are there any success stories about your work you’d like to share?
One success I am particularly proud of is the impact we’ve seen our programming have, specifically NBA Math Hoops last year.
In 2021, students who completed the Math Hoops program achieved 29% gains in basic math fluency and 19% improvement on a test measuring higher-order skills related to statistics and data analysis. The program consistently outperformed national averages for student STEM engagement and social-emotional development. In total, more than 500,000 students have solved more than 250 million math problems through the NBA Math Hoops program, and 92% of educators report that the program improves students’ overall attitudes towards math. We hope all of our programs will achieve this level of impact.
What’s next in your work to improve equity for today’s learners?
The NBA Foundation will continue to invest and focus on economic empowerment in the Black community through school-to-career employment opportunities via job creation, talent development and career advancement. An example of this is the league’s new HBCU Fellowship program which launched this year to provide career development opportunities in the business of basketball for undergraduate and graduate students from HBCUs. The NBA will also continue to expand on its various initiatives that encourage college-aged and early career individuals to gain additional experience in roles where people of color and minorities are historically underrepresented, such as analytics, sales, technology and basketball roles.
Where can educators go to learn more about the NBA/WNBA’s efforts?
To learn more about NBA Cares and our programs and efforts in this space, educators can visit https://cares.nba.com/ or follow us at @NBACares on Twitter and Instagram.
The American Consortium for Equity in Education, publisher of the "Equity & Access" journal, celebrates and connects the educators, associations, community partners and industry leaders who are working to solve problems and create a more equitable environment for historically underserved pre K-12 students throughout the United States.