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Q&A: Greg Taylor, the first Executive Director of the NBA Foundation

As he oversees the league's efforts to drive economic empowerment for Black communities, Taylor describes the specific outcomes he envisions.

Michael C. Wright

Michael C. Wright

Greg Taylor began his role as Executive Director of the NBA Foundation on Jan. 4, 2021.

Named the first Executive Director of the NBA Foundation back in December, Greg Taylor never played a lick of professional basketball.

But he once served as unofficial water boy for Hall of Fame point guard Gary Payton at Skyline High School in Oakland, Calif.

“Gary Payton came in as a little scrawny ninth grader and took my spot,” Taylor explained to NBA.com. “Then, from my 10th grade year on, I just handed him water. I joke with him and say we both made the NBA.”

What’s real, though, is the work Taylor and the NBA Foundation is doing to drive economic empowerment for Black communities through employment and career advancement.

See, you don’t have to actually play in the NBA to make it to the league.

That’s one of the many messages Taylor hopes to relay to Black youth in his capacity with the NBA Foundation.

Taylor is responsible for strategic development and putting together programs that advance the NBA Foundation’s goals of increasing access and support for high school, college-aged, job-ready and mid-career Black men and women around the country. Taylor oversees the administration of grants — such as the $3 million in grants the NBA Foundation recently gave to nine organizations — to both local and national organizations that provide skills training, mentorship, coaching and pipeline development for Black youth.

As part of a 10-year pledge by NBA team governors to contribute a total of $300 million, the Foundation serves as just one aspect of the league’s efforts to address racial inequality while advancing social justice.

Taylor took a few minutes out of his day recently to speak extensively to NBA.com about this work with the NBA Foundation that considers to be a “personal calling.” Editor’s Note: The following 1-on-1 conversation has been condensed and edited.


NBA.com: You were named the first Executive Director of the NBA Foundation back in December after spending quite a while as the league’s Senior Vice President of Player Development. Are the two roles drastically different?

Greg Taylor: It’s certainly different in many respects, but very similar in others. From my standpoint, what was really great about my previous role as the Senior Vice President of Player Development was the ability to work closely with the players as much of the world was kind of re-committing to social justice issues. So, [I] really had an amazing opportunity to be on the ground with many players thinking through how they would want to show up, support, really learn about and contribute to the social justice issues that were emerging in the world and in the states. We know this work is going to take time, but really being a part of a tangible commitment to social justice that the NBA put forth. So, the difference is obviously, I don’t spend as much time with players. But the great outcome is that we really are fundamentally committed to many of the same issues, and I’m glad that the Foundation work has really been up and running. We’ve got lots to do, but we’re rolling.

What made you take on this job? It seems you could’ve easily just continued to work with the players and still accomplished some of the same goals you’re working toward now. This is a huge responsibility.

I think in many ways it’s such an amazing intersection between personal and professional passions for me that I was just excited to be considered for the opportunity. It is true that I could’ve continued to work with players and deepened the work that they were doing around social justice. I think what the Foundation is is an amazing platform to commit to the development of Black youth around economic opportunities and equity. I think in many ways, being able to leverage my two-plus decades experience in the foundation world to help get this important organization off the ground. It was just an opportunity that I couldn’t miss, and I’m super excited about it.

What were the first few weeks on the job like for you? It seems like there’s quite a few moving parts with the various potential grantees, the players, the union, the governors around the league, etc., not to mention the fact you’re doing it in the midst of a global pandemic.

Yeah, it’s been fast and furious. I was on the ground floor for some of the early planning [in August], but it was officially announced in early January. So, it’s been fast and furious as is everything at the league. We are a hard-charging company. I think that’s just who we are. I’ve been re-introducing myself to the Board. I think in many ways the Governors and Directors of the Foundation knew of me from my work in player development and being in the league for eight years. But this is a new role. In many cases, people didn’t know my philanthropic background. So, the second task has been to really re-introduce myself to the key stakeholders. Then thirdly, it’s been about trying to identify amazing organizations that have similar missions of what we’re going after. I think we’re off to a really positive start. There’s so much more to do, and this is a longstanding marathon and not a sprint. But we’re working hard, and I think every day we’re making strides toward the outcomes we seek.

In August, the NBA announced the creation of the NBA Foundation, dedicated to promoting economic empowerment in the Black community.

So, how and why was the Foundation created?

I would argue that when the social unrest was happening in the country, the league took a real hard look at what is the role that we can play and contribute to the change that we all would like to see in a lasting and sustainable manner? I think the Foundation was one of those external-facing efforts that the league really stepped up to, along with both the governors and with the union. How do we use our platform as one of the most recognizable brands in the world to be and contribute to the change that was happening in the world? So, it is a huge undertaking. I think what we’re trying to do is contribute to a longstanding tradition of giving back to communities, and using the NBA platform around social issues, and we’re trying to carry on that legacy moving forward. I want to really thank Michele Roberts on the union side, Tobias [Harris] and Harrison Barnes as players, and obviously the governors and the directors on the board for the support and the guidance, and really the inspiration to be bold and to lead in this area. So, we’re going to try to work really hard to meet that mandate.

When the Foundation was first announced, there was an initial commitment of 10 years and $300 million. Do you see the Foundation extending this beyond the timeframe initially announced?

I think there’s a real expectation that we’re in this for the long haul. Ten years was really an idea to suggest that we know this is not gonna be a short-term play. These issues have been generational and longstanding, and I think there’s an absolute expectation that we will move beyond the 10-year original commitment. We’re certainly going to work hard to raise as many resources as possible to benefit deserving Black young people in this country. So, yes, I do. I will say we’ve got lots of work to do. We’ve got to establish credibility. We’ve got to work and form tremendous partnerships. We’ve got to work with companies that are likeminded. So, lots of work to get done, but this is an ongoing commitment that I’m excited to be a part of. I think the league has been very clear about the length of time it will take. We’re in it for the long haul.

We both know that some of these major entities start these initiatives and just throw money at them without ever really following up to gauge the impact made on the communities. So, how does the Foundation determine whether the grants are truly impactful in these communities?

We have a number of ways in which we do that. We have a really rigorous due-diligence process before we actually invest resources into an organization. So, we want to know their track record. We want to know who their board of directors are, their executive leadership. We want to get program evaluations that really underscore the impact they’re having in communities. So, there’s a real rigorous vetting process that we’ve put in place and will continue to use. I think in many ways, we also want to be in conversation with the grantees and the organizations we’ll work with to really name the specific outcomes of what we’re trying to do.

What are some of those specific outcomes?

One, is we want to create real viable partnerships between effective non-profit organizations, companies that are committed to hiring Black young people and the NBA in our markets. So, there’s a structure in place that’s committed to a shared set of outcomes around employment opportunities for young people. Secondly, what we want to do is really be about meaningful jobs. We know that often in the Black community, you’re in the most vulnerable positions. So, an inordinate number of our jobs are in retail, health care, and in food service. While those jobs are important, we know they’re also vulnerable and also hyperlocal. So, we want to focus on growing areas like knowledge work, digital employment opportunities, technology, finance and other industries that have both an amazing opportunity to make a living wage, but also have a growth potential. I think thirdly on the outcome side, it’s about we really want to work to try to promote affirming storylines about Black youth. I think too often Black youth are defined by stereotypes, maybe past decision-making, socioeconomics. We want to define them by their aspirations, by their leadership potential, by their ability to be producers, rather than just consumers. I think if we do those three things in partnership with longstanding organizations that have been leaders in this work, I think we can hold each other accountable and ultimately benefit the quality of life for Black youth. I think that’s going to be the distinguishing factor of our work.

You just answered my next two questions with that one answer. But it really seems like, for you, there’s a personal connection with this work. Accurate?

Yeah, I was one of these young people growing up where I benefitted from the non-profit program that helped me develop my leadership skills. Had tremendous mentors in my life, who I still talk to on a regular basis to keep me in line and give me feedback and help me to navigate the unwritten rules of the world. In many ways, I know having a safe place to go where you can grow and meet other likeminded young people is just really, really important. So, it is a personal calling for me. I would even go so far as to say when I first came into the league and was leading the Player Development department, in many ways, I felt that the relationships with those players was a way of continuing to pour into young people to [encourage them] to be all they could be in their families, in their communities, in their markets, on their teams or whatever.  Really, this is a continued opportunity to give back in a way that motivates me each and every day.

You’re an example for these young kids that you don’t necessarily have to play basketball in college or professionally to have a career working in the NBA at a high-level position. Is that one of the messages you hope to relay in your work?

Absolutely. While I certainly admire the tenacity and the commitment of every one of the 450 players that have made it to the NBA, we know that the statistics would say that is an incredible journey. Not impossible, but incredible. I do want young people to understand that there are so many other roles and so many other ways that if you’re inspired by athletics, there’s so many roles you can play. One of the things that we’ll do in this work is to really let folks know that we have lawyers, creative directors, artists, computer scientists, communications folks, all who have tremendous roles that contribute to the game, and I would say being part of one of the best brands in the world. So, folks need to understand that. We want to make that visible to young people, and maybe create opportunities for folks that benefit both the league and their own professional careers. I certainly embody that.

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Michael C. Wright is a senior writer for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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