Melo wins NBA’s 1st Kareem social justice award

Portland Trail Blazers forward Carmelo Anthony is the inaugural winner of the NBA’s Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Social Justice Champion award, it was announced Tuesday.

The NBA said Anthony, a 10-time NBA All-Star, entrepreneur and philanthropist, was selected “for his dedication over the past year to pursuing social justice and advancing Abdul-Jabbar’s life mission to engage, empower and drive equality for individuals and groups who have been historically marginalized or systemically disadvantaged.”

“It’s such an honor,” Anthony told ESPN’s The Undefeated via e-mail. “I’m lucky to be part of a league full of players who are equally as passionate about making a difference. So, I’m truly humbled to be recognized by Kareem and the selection committee. It’s my hope that this award encourages others to help uplift those who have been historically marginalized or systematically disadvantaged, and do their part in making equality and justice for all.”

The four other finalists for the award were Sacramento Kings forward Harrison Barnes, Philadelphia 76ers forward Tobias Harris, Milwaukee Bucks guard Jrue Holiday and Golden State Warriors forward Juan Toscano-Anderson.

The NBA announced the creation of the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Social Justice Champion award on May 13. The new annual honor was created to recognize a player for “pursuing social justice and upholding the league’s decades-long values of equality, respect and inclusion.”

Abdul-Jabbar is a six-time NBA champion, the league’s all-time leading scorer and a member of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. The former Los Angeles Lakers and Milwaukee Bucks star is also known for pushing for societal change and inspiring reflection on injustice.

As the winner, Anthony was able to select an organization — Portland Art Museum’s Black Arts and Experiences Initiative — to receive a $100,000 contribution on his behalf. Barnes, Harris, Holiday and Toscano-Anderson will also receive $25,000 to give to a charity of their choice.

In the near future, Anthony and Abdul-Jabbar are expected to develop and design the trophy with inspiration from both of their visions with a team of emerging designers from diverse backgrounds from the Marcus Graham Project — a national organization and inaugural NBA Foundation grant recipient focused on developing the next generation of diverse leaders in advertising, media and marketing industry through training, mentorship and professional development opportunities.

“Kareem is an all-around legend,” said Anthony, a six-time all-NBA team selection. “His contributions on the court are next level, and off the court he has dedicated his life to the fight for equality and made it his mission to drive positive change in our society. He leads by example, and he inspires myself and so many others to do the same in our own lives. It was an honor and a blessing to even be considered as a finalist for this award by Kareem.”

In July 2020, Anthony partnered with Phoenix Suns guard Chris Paul and former NBA star Dwyane Wade to create the Social Change Fund, which addresses social and economic justice issues facing Black communities and breaks down the discriminatory barriers to success.

Proceeds from the Social Change Fund were donated to support organizations working on critical issues impacting African-American communities.

Anthony has been focused on critical issues that include championing criminal justice reform and inclusion, advocating for the human rights of all Black lives, expanding access to voting and civic engagement, increasing Black representation in government, and building economic equity in communities of color through investment in education, employment, wages and housing.

Anthony also served as guest editor-in-chief for SLAM magazine’s special Social Justice issue that featured Abdul-Jabbar, former NBA legend Bill Russell and former WNBA star Sheryl Swoopes.

Anthony also partnered with 94-year-old activist Opal Lee in March to raise awareness of Juneteenth and advocate for the day to become a national holiday. The former Syracuse star is featured in a criminal justice reform campaign for the Vera Institute of Justice and has multi-platform content company Creative 7 Productions.

The 37-year-old Anthony was instrumental in the launch of the Trail Blazers Racial Injustice Initiative, which provided more than $200,000 in funding to organizations fighting systemic racism.

“Giving back and working to uplift communities like the ones I grew up in has always been central for me, and everything I’ve worked to accomplish off the court has been a culmination of a lifetime of witnessing injustices and inequalities,” Anthony said. “While the past year has thrust a larger spotlight on the inequalities faced by many on a global level, these are not new issues. Progress is being made, but change doesn’t happen overnight. It’s up to each and every one of us to do our part to create a future for the next generation where everyone is accepted for who they are, regardless of skin tone, gender, sexuality, religion or income level. Let’s work to celebrate all the things we, as human beings, have in common, rather than dwell on the differences that for too long have divided us.”

The National Basketball Social Justice Coalition board director also has worked on social reform through the Carmelo Anthony Foundation. Moreover, Anthony’s forthcoming memoir, “Where Tomorrows Aren’t Promised,” delves into his upbringing while highlighting social, health and economic inequities in communities of color.

Anthony’s selection for the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Social Justice Champion award was determined by a selection committee composed of Abdul-Jabbar, Director of The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport Dr. Richard Lapchick, student activist Teyonna Lofton, National Urban League President and CEO Marc Morial, UnidosUS President and CEO Janet Murguía, Rise Founder and CEO Amanda Nguyen, and NBA Deputy Commissioner and Chief Operating Officer Mark Tatum.

“Carmelo Anthony stands on the shoulders of the great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar by demonstrating that social justice and racial equality are crucial to the 21st Century NBA,” Murial said in a statement. “With his active courageous commitment to social justice and racial equality, he stands as a role model for the generation of players who are energized to speak loudly, and act clearly in this transformative moment in American history.”

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