NBA legend Dell Curry didn’t see professional basketball as a career choice growing up. Instead, it was another field that captured his attention.
“I wanted to go into law enforcement,” Curry said. “I had no idea I’d be an NBA player. Basketball helped me bridge that gap. I wasn’t the best student in high school, but once I realized what I wanted to do, I had to have good grades to help get me focused, disciplined and dedicated to my craft.”
Curry was drafted by the Charlotte Hornets in 1986, where he retired in 2002 as the team’s all-time leader in points. But the father of Golden State Warriors star Stephen Curry and Portland Trail Blazers guard Seth Curry still had thoughts of becoming involved in law enforcement.
More than three decades later, Dell Curry and the Curry Family Foundation are part of the seventh installment of Building Bridges Through Basketball, an NBA program designed to forge a relationship between police and youths in communities.
On Saturday, the program was launched at the Naomi Drenan Recreation Center in Charlotte, North Carolina, the same location where brothers Stephen and Seth Curry spent countless hours practicing. It’s one of the centers in the local area where the siblings started playing basketball. Children participated in skills drills and interacted with members of law enforcement.
Weekly sessions will begin at the center March 9, with 2.5-hour classes featuring basketball training and hands-on leadership activities developed by the Ross Initiative in Sports for Equality (RISE), to focus on identity, diversity and conflict resolution.
Two newly renovated outdoor basketball courts were also revealed on Saturday, courtesy of the Curry Family Foundation and Under Armour in partnership with Nancy Lieberman Charities.
Seth Curry, NBA Cares ambassadors Bob Lanier and Felipe Lopez, Lieberman, North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper and RISE CEO Diahann Billings-Burford all attended.
“We have to build relationships and it’s not just the relationships with our children,” Billings-Burford said. “Law enforcement officers have to see and understand our children just like our children have to see and understand law enforcement officers. We’re bridging that divide to make a difference every day like in the streets. Even as we protest and we fight injustice, we also just have to improve conditions everywhere we can.”
Cooper hosted a similar program in 2009 when he was North Carolina’s attorney general. Badges for Baseball in North Carolina served more than 1,500 youths in 17 communities across the state. Cooper used sports as a catalyst to enhance communication between police and the community.
“I think that many communities yearn for a voice and yearn for respect and I think there are a lot of law enforcement officers that really want to bridge that gap … ,” Cooper said. “Sports is an amazing way to do this.”
Building Bridges took off nearly a year after LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony used their platform to spread awareness on social injustice at The ESPYS in 2016. Their speech was delivered in the wake of fatal shootings by police and it soon began to take on a broader awareness.
The NBA launched the 10-week Building Bridges program to help build trust and bridge divides in the community. They partnered with Under Armour, then with RISE to facilitate the curriculum. According to the NBA, more than 11,500 youths and members of law enforcement since 2016 have come together in the initial six Building Bridges Through Basketball programs. With New Orleans as the inaugural site in 2016, other cities involved are Chicago (2), Detroit (2), Los Angeles and Charlotte.
Rashawn Ray, associate professor of sociology and director of the Lab for Applied Social Science Research at the University of Maryland, said the program is a start in the right direction.
“I tend to think that the NBA is definitely doing something that’s proactive,” Ray said. “Obviously these cities have troubled histories, as well as troubled things that have happened in the present. … Particularly to have police departments at the table, when they’re not telling someone what to do on the street, but instead are simply having a conversation to see, particularly black and brown youth in cities, as simply another human being. I think part of what 10 weeks can do is it can start to form a new baseline. It is not the ending, instead it’s a big beginning.”
Dell Curry said he can see the benefit of 10 weeks of interaction.
“You can get a lot done in 10 weeks,” he said. “If everybody involved has the same focus, the same dedication, the same goal, definitely so.”
Jacoby Jackson, 14, is a member of the program in Charlotte. He says 10 weeks is enough but it could be more if you don’t have a fully formed relationship.
“It’s good to build relationships and communicate with them,” he said.
His mother, Tabitha, has been a social worker in Charlotte since before Jacoby was born and raised her children in the area. Like Ray, she believes 10 weeks is a start.
“You have to start somewhere,” she said. “It is an awesome experience. This is a great opportunity.”
For the mother of two honor students, law enforcement lacked cultural competency. Her eldest son, Cameron, is a sophomore at Saint Augustine’s University in Raleigh, North Carolina.
“I think that both students and adults can improve in that area and this program gives them opportunity to do that.”