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Q&A: Greg Taylor 'excited about the progress' NBA Foundation has made

The foundations's executive director says there's a lot more work to do, but emphasizes positive strides in its inaugural year.

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

NBA Foundation Executive Director Greg Taylor should be taking a well-deserved vacation.

Instead, he’s pulled over to the side of the road on a trip to the mountains in upstate New York taking a call from to provide updates for an extensive undertaking he often refers to as “a real labor of love.”

The NBA’s Board of Governors and the National Basketball Players Association finalized plans last August to create the first NBA Foundation dedicated to creating greater economic empowerment in the Black community and tabbed Taylor — formerly the league’s Vice President of Player Development — as the organization’s first Executive Director.

Well, the NBA Foundation capped its one-year anniversary Friday by announcing $6 million in grants to 22 recipients to create employment opportunities, further career advancement and drive economic empowerment for Black youth. The grant recipients were named as part of the NBA Foundation’s third round of grants on the one-year anniversary of the organization’s Aug. 6, 2020 incorporation.

Greg Taylor with the NBA Foundation discusses the vision for organization and more.

“We’re thrilled to celebrate our one-year anniversary by awarding 22 deserving organizations with new grants that will further their efforts and our shared mission to create short- and long-term opportunity for Black young people,” Taylor said.

Taylor and his staff have played a significant role in the NBA Foundation awarding 40 grants to date totaling $11 million to nonprofit organizations, as part of a 10-year, $300 million commitment involving all 30 of the league’s teams as the NBA works to address racial inequality while advancing causes of social justice.

Taylor took a few minutes of his vacation trip to provide an update on the progress made by the NBA Foundation and the organization’s goals for the future.

Editor’s Note: The following 1-on-1 conversation has been condensed and edited. The last time we talked the NBA Foundation had awarded $3 million in grants to nine organizations. We’re now talking about $6 million in grants being donated to 22 organizations. How are you feeling about the progress made so far by the Foundation?

Greg Taylor: It’s been a real labor of love. I feel like we are making great progress. I think everyone on my staff, including myself, feels the urgency of the opportunity to get resources to deserving Black youth, and those really effective organizations serving them. So, I’m really happy with the progress. Lots more to do, without question. But I would say we’re probably upwards of 40 grantees, and about $11 million committed. Now, it hasn’t all gotten out the door yet, but we have commitments of about $11 million in total since January, and I’m very happy with that.

When you first took on this job, surely there were certain expectations and goals for what you wanted to accomplish. How does the current reality sort of line up with what you wanted to get done when you first came into the position?

Certainly, we had goals. We wanted to build an amazing team. I’m really happy to say we’ve done that. We wanted to really create a vision for the Foundation that would show the world that we’re really executing against an aggressive mission around helping Black kids [with] economic opportunity [for ages] 14 to 24. So, I feel like we’re in a good space. Again, so much more to do. But I would argue really getting money to deserving organizations, establishing a clear and compelling vision, and really executing against that mission in the timeframe that we have [is exciting].

It’s been a year since the Foundation got started. Is there any way to track the impact that these grants have made with these organizations in their communities?

There’s multiple levels of impact. Remember, the Foundation started in August a year ago. Myself and my team [were] named as leadership in January. I would say at this point the impact really is defined by the number of young people that have been served by the grants we’ve given. Now, [there are] lots of deeper impacts and outcomes that we would like to see in terms of job creation, in terms of employment outcomes. It’s too early to track that at this point. But what we’ve done is really invest in 40-plus incredible non-profit organizations that have a mission around accelerating outcomes for young people around employment and education. We’re at the 10,000-plus mark with regards to the impact of those young people. That’s a heck of a mark, and I’m excited about the progress.

Who are some of the unsung heroes behind the scenes that need to be recognized in this endeavor?

Without question, I would start with my staff first. Adela Ruiz is our Program and Grants Manager. She joined us from the Ford Foundation, where she played the same role. She’s just brought a level of intellectual rigor, really a deep understanding and knowledge of the philanthropic sector and foundations. She’s just been an amazing workhorse for us. The same goes for Lauren Sills, who is our Operations Leader. She has really helped us to execute the day-to-day X’s and O’s to make sure we’re operating at a level that’s worthy of the NBA brand, frankly.

In the communities, every executive director of our NBA partners has just been incredible. Those 40 grantees that we work with are giving us all kinds of feedback [ranging from] the effectiveness of the grant application, what’s the best way we can invest our money into their organizations, which is both programmatic and capacity-building support, feedback about how we can be as helpful coming out of the pandemic for oftentimes Black-led nonprofit organizations that really have suffered in their fundraising ability. So, I would say that every one of those executive directors that lead the nonprofit partners that we’ve invested in have been incredibly helpful in the execution of the work. We simply wouldn’t be here without them.

When you look at the scope of what’s being done here, has the NBA Foundation been forced to expand to keep up with all the work?

I think we have. We are a 10-year, $300 million foundation. At this point we intend to grow and certainly last beyond those 10 years. But right now, the mandate is we’re looking to try to effectively grant $30 million in this year. So, I think there’s so much need in the world around Black youth and economic opportunity, and we’re very much humbled and aware of all that. I think the growth of the Foundation in terms of people recognizing who we are, understanding how we’re investing, what is our small role to play in kind of moving this initiative forward, I think we’re doing very, very well. But you’ve got to work in partnership to have the leverage in scale that we all would be proud of.

What’s next for the NBA Foundation?

I think it is about forming really strategic partnerships with organizations that have been leading in the economic opportunity for Black youth space much longer than we have. I think that’s one. I think, two, we continue to spread the word about the NBA Foundation, recognizing we’re a brand-new philanthropy. So, many folks don’t know about us. We want to get the brand reputation, our effectiveness, and our efficiency out, our reputation out for everyone to know. Then, I think we’re gonna really dig into our core strategy. We want to really take a deep dive into what are those meaningful and effective family-sustaining jobs that we can help these young people find ways and inroads into. What’s next is about meaningful employment opportunities. Certainly, we’re going to deepen our partnerships around the work. So, I think that’s what’s next.

This would seem to be an impossible to answer question. But is there really a way to gauge how much more needs to be done or whether the ultimate goal is ever reached in this endeavor?

That’s a great question. We certainly will track the number of what we’re calling “meaningful”. When we say meaningful, we’re talking about living wage, professional development opportunities, career-focused employment opportunities for these young people. We’ll eventually begin to really track the number of job and career placement opportunities we’ve created for these young folks. It’s just too early to determine that. I think we do have to get clarity on what success looks like. I think in many ways, success for us is gonna be really helping a significant number of young people transcend the racial wealth gap. We want to put them on a meaningful platform and pathway around employment and income and professional opportunity that really has them competing, I would say, in our economy as viable participants if you will. I think that really does shape the future and the vision of this body of work. It’s just too early to be able to kind of name that at this point.

I often tell folks to be realistic about the outcomes. Look, we’re not going to close the racial wealth gap for every Black deserving youth in America. But I am suggesting that those young people that participate in the organizations that we invest in, we want to help prepare them for career opportunities, education opportunities that add to meaningful employment. I think we can get to a point where we can really be clear about how our revenue and how our grants help to do that. But to your point, there’s such a great need out there. There’s so much that needs to be done. I think us being into this work for what I hope is in perpetuity is the way in which you’ll see impact, but it’s not a destination. It’s a way of being and a way of providing opportunity for as many deserving young people as we can. That’s what we’re gonna try to document and measure. I think if we can get ourselves, like-minded companies that want to hire these young people, to think differently about how you would prepare, recruit and retain these young people, I think in many ways if we can strengthen the nonprofit sector, whose role it is to educate and prepare these young people to have a competitive shot at what I would say is meaningful employment, I think we’ve done very good in the world, and I’m happy to be a part of that.

When are you getting some time off man?

[Laughs]. It’s a labor of love, and it’s very, very intense without question. Not only is the mission something that’s powerful and dynamic, it’s also doing that within the confines of the NBA, where we want to be first and best in class. I’ll certainly take some time off later in the summer to kind of rejuvenate. It’s a passion project. So, I really want to credit the team for how amazing they are in the work. But we certainly will exercise some self-care. We work very, very hard, but we’re driven by a real passion, a real need in the world and a real opportunity to have an impact for young people.

The WNBA has really been at the forefront of a lot of what’s going on in today’s climate in terms of this racial reckoning, social justice issues, voter suppression. Has the NBA Foundation and WNBA had conversations about partnering up on the current endeavor?

Let me be really clear and support your first point in the conversation. There’s no question that the WNBA has been at the vanguard if you will, I would say in all professional sports, about issues of social justice. The W players have been the voice. They have taken the risks. They are the tip of the spear in many ways. There’s such an admirable effort that I see there. We’re fortunate to have levels of interaction with the W. The grant is funded by the NBA, and it’s focused on NBA markets. So, there’s not a direct correlation between where we will invest and the like. But there’s no question that the W has led the way, and we certainly on the NBA side have lots of work to do and we’re really blessed that our players are active in this space and are students of the issues of history and understand they have platforms to create changes.

So, we’re working to that end. Certainly, we’ll work in partnership. But right now, we don’t work directly with the WNBA at least from the [standpoint of the] NBA Foundation. The WNBA has really been at the forefront of really significant and sustained social change, and I could not agree with that more. We can learn from them. We should find ways to partner with them. It’s just right now the mission of the NBA Foundation is focused on NBA markets. So, maybe in the future that changes. But right now, that’s the scope of what we’re doing.

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

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