On the court, NBA stars are cheered on for their incredible athleticism and the many highlights they create in any given game — the towering alley-oops, behind-the-back passes, and game-winners. 

But part of what makes the NBA so special is what its players do off the court. 

In fact, many players are known nearly as much for their activities off-the-court as for their performance on it. Russell Westbrook is a fashion icon. Shaquille O’Neal loved to pull pranks. Dikembe Mutombo was a committed humanitarian. 

This year, former San Antonio Spurs legend Tim Duncan made the news after launching a successful social media campaign to help victims of Hurricane Irma in the US Virgin Islands, where he’s originally from. His campaign eventually led to the delivery of 400,000 pounds of food to the 21 islands. 

So too did Dallas point guard J.J. Barea — who hopped on a private plane chartered by team owner Mark Cuban to deliver aid on-the-ground in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria.  

Read More: This WNBA Player Has Donated Her Entire Salary to Charity for Three Years Running

Other players are recognized on a regular basis for their contributions off the court through the NBA Cares Community Assist Award, given each month to an NBA player who demonstrates a commitment to giving back to their community. 

The NBA, which is the fastest-growing sport among millennials, has often seen players weigh into pertinent national discussions about race, activism, and other issues that affect those living in poverty such as gun violence.  

Read More: How Steph Curry and Lebron James Stack Up in the Charity World

Players across the league also regularly promote values such as education, women’s empowerment, health, citizenship, and other factors that contribute to the fight against extreme poverty. (Global Citizen campaigns on the Global Goals for Sustainable Development. You can take action here.) 

Here’s how the NBA’s top stars stack up when it comes to giving back and making the world a better place: 

Eastern Conference:

1/ LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers 

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Not only has LeBron James won three championships, four Most Valuable Player awards, and 13 All-Star Game bids, but he’s also pledged $41.8 million to provide a free education to more than 1,000 students from his hometown of Akron; donated $2.5 million to the National Museum of African American History and Culture; spoken out about racism and injustice on a national level; and designed and personally handed out a signature shoe for children with disabilities. 

When it comes to charity, and basketball, James most certainly goes hard in the paint. 

2/ John Wall, Washington Wizards 

In 2014, John Wall made the news for something other than his silky passes, blazing speed, and electrifying left-handed dunks. What made the news was his friendship with Miyah Telemaque-Nelson, a 6-year-old girl who suffered from a rare form of cancer called Burkitt's Lymphoma. When it was announced before a December game that Telemaque-Nelson had died, Wall was visibly emotional, and broke down in tears in a postgame interview.  

Since that moment, Wall has worked closely with the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society in Washington D.C., sponsoring a walking team called “Miyah’s Troupe.” His activism for health issues added to his already impressive repertoire of community engagement through the John Wall Family Foundation and the Passport to Manhood Program, aimed at engaging young boys in community service projects. 

This was enough to win wall the 2015-2016 NBA Cares Seasonlong Community Assist Award, beating out players like Chris Paul, LeBron James, and Steph Curry. 

3/ Serge Ibaka, Toronto Raptors 

Toronto Raptors forward Serge Ibaka may have made it to the NBA, but the Congolese star has never forgotten his roots in Brazzaville, Republic of Congo. Each year, Ibaka teams up with Cowbell Milk to put on the Cowbell Ibaka Games, which celebrate Congolese culture through music and sports. 

His foundation focuses on promoting education, health, and nutrition for Congolese youth. 

Ibaka was named a Global Citizen Ambassador for Health, and spoke on stage at the Global Citizen Festival in New York. 

4/ Al Horford, Boston Celtics

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Known for being one of the NBA’s most charitable centers, averaging five assists per game in 2016-2017, Horford is also known for giving back off the court. Originally from the Dominican Republic, one of the poorest countries in the Western hemisphere, Horford spent the past summer reconstructing courts in his hometown of Puerto Plata and putting together youth basketball clinics on the island. 

Horford’s also been involved with the charity WildAid to protect African elephants; Basketball Without Borders, which focuses on youth engagement in developing countries; and the Make-A-Wish Foundation. 

Western Conference: 

1/ Steph Curry, Golden State Warriors

If there’s one basketball item that’s worth its weight in gold, it’s the sneaker. From Jordans to Nikes, basketball shoes have become as much a cultural touchstone as they are a utilitarian item in the United States, but around the world many budding athletes are prevented from playing sports at an early age because they lack even this simple tool. 

That’s why this March, Golden State’s Steph Curry teamed up with Liberty University to donate roughly 20,000 pairs of shoes to kids in the Republic of Congo.

Curry’s charity work extends above the ankle, as well. The superstar has partnered with the United Nations to provide malaria nets to people in Africa, a partnership that also included a trip by the star to Tanzania. He also hosts a golf fundraising tournament called ThanksUSA that sends proceeds to the Ada Jenkins Center, a crisis center in North Carolina, and he has spoken out against North Carolina’s so-called “bathroom bill” that discriminated against transgender students. 

2/ Gorgui Dieng, Minnesota Timberwolves

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A graduate of Senegal’s Sports for Education and Economic Development (SEED) Project, Gorgui Dieng moved to the United States in high school to play basketball. Now a member of the Minnesota Timberwolves, Dieng, known for his tough defense on the court, is also defending lives in his hometown of Kébémar. 

The Gorgui Dieng Project, part of a partnership with an NGO called Matter, raised money to equip the hospital in which Dieng was born with better medical supplies, add capacity to a local dialysis center, and train local farmers in sustainability practices. 

“My family, they’re OK, you know. They get what they need. I got to go to school and my parents could afford it and do all the things that I needed to do to be successful,” Gorgui said. “There are some people that really struggled though. I always had it in mind that one day when I got the chance I’d help these people.”

3/ Pau Gasol, San Antonio Spurs

As an athlete, Spanish star Pau Gasol is constantly asked to be in peak physical condition, something that’s allowed him to play the physically demanding game of basketball well into his 30s. As an activist for health and wellness through his Gasol Foundation, he’s hoping to do the same for kids around the world. 

The foundation operates in the US and Spain without the goal of reducing childhood obesity. It does this through partnerships with organizations like UNICEF and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. 

4/ Thabo Sefolosha, Utah Jazz

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Many NBA stars, including James, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony, and Derrick Rose, have spoken out about police brutality in the United States, which overwhelmingly affects men of color. (The NBA is over 80% black.)

But unlike some players, Atlanta Hawks forward Thabo Sefolosha has experienced it firsthand. In 2015, Sefolosha’s leg was broken during a wrongful arrest by police officers outside of a Manhattan nightclub, causing him to miss the playoffs. 

After winning a $4 million settlement from the New York Police Department, the player announced that he would donate a “substantial” portion of it to an Atlanta-based public defenders organization called Gideon's Promise that represents people living in poverty in legal cases, ESPN reported this April. 

As if that wasn’t enough, the Swiss player has also created an after-school program for children in South Africa’s townships, served as an ambassador to the Make-A-Wish Foundation, and this September saved a woman from drowning in Utah’s Provo River

Honorable mentions 

Kyrie Irving, Chris Paul, Bradley Beal, Isaiah Thomas, Dwyane Wade, J.R. Smith, Damian Lillard 


Demand Equity

These 15 NBA Players Are Giving Back to the Global Community

By Phineas Rueckert