The NBA takes great pains to promote its NBA Cares initiviates -- David Stern has occasionally called it his proudest contribution to the league -- and for good reason. These are almost universally good programs focused on important issues like building homes, promoting physical fitness, and improving the environment. Sometimes, though, a franchise goes the extra mile and reaches out to a group of people who typically don't get positive media attention.
That's exactly what the Golden State Warriors are doing at the infamous San Quentin State Prison in unincorporated Marin County, roughly 25 miles from the team's headquarters in Oakland. As reported in a terrific piece by Monte Poole for the Bay Area News Group, several of the team's coaches and front office employees visit the prison to play basketball with inmates:
[General manager Bob] Myers and [head coach Mark] Jackson and Warriors assistant coach Brian Scalabrine, one year removed from playing in the NBA, are joined by other members of the Warriors organization, including assistant general manager Kirk Lacob, the son majority owner Joe Lacob.
They all brave the morning commute to come here and play basketball with the inmates. So, naturally, this visit is about much more than hoops.
"It's basketball, but, for the most part, this is about impacting lives," Jackson says. [...]
"The best thing about it for me is to realize you shouldn't judge people until you get to know them," he says. "In playing here a couple times, I can say I've never had a bad interaction. You hear more complaining and griping on the playground than you do over here. These guys are respectful and they play the game the right way. I really enjoy it."
The postgame scene is one of hugs and handshakes and small talk. Autographs are signed and photographs are taken. Despite the differences -- racial, political and socioeconomic -- the sense of brotherhood is palpable.
It's important not to oversell exactly what the Warriors are doing here: they're not making specific arguments for public policy towards inmates, advocating for different treatment and sentencing requirements, etc. In the end, their main contribution is visiting the prison and treating the inmates as human beings.
On the other hand, that simple gesture matters a great deal. In a society that continually marginalizes felons and makes it increasingly possible for former convicts to reintegrate into society, treating inmates as full people capable of making positive contributions to society can be the first step towards meaningful change. What the Warriors are doing, and discovering, matters.