On Tuesday, ESPN and the NBA report that Carmelo Anthony was named the inaugural winner of the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Social Justice Champion Award, which we previously reported recognizes a current NBA player for “pursuing social justice and upholding the league’s decades-long values of equality, respect, and inclusion,” in addition to “advancing Abdul-Jabbar’s life mission to engage, empower and drive equality for individuals and groups who have been historically marginalized or systematically disadvantaged.”
While the 10-time NBA All-Star is being recognized for his commitment to the cause in 2021, his work to serve as a catalyst for change actually began with the launch of the Carmelo Anthony Foundation in 2005. In the time since, he’s been instrumental in numerous social reform and outreach programs, in addition to disaster relief initiatives. However, over the course of the past year, he partnered with Chris Paul and Dwyane Wade to launch the Social Change Fund in July of 2020, which provides resources and support to organizations focused on empowering the Black community; he served as guest editor-in-chief for SLAM magazine’s Social Justice issue that featured the likes of Abdul-Jabbar and NBA icon Bill Russell; and he worked with activist Opal Lee to help push for Juneteenth to eventually become a national holiday.
Other issues that the future Hall of Famer has involved himself in include criminal justice reform and inclusion, expanding access to voting and civic engagement, increasing Black representation in government, and building economic equity in communities of color through investment in education, employment, wages, and housing, per ESPN.
“First of all, I just want to say I’m honored, I’m blessed, I feel humbled to be the first recipient of the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Social Justice Champion award,” Anthony said in a statement. “Just that name alone, we all know what that stands for, we all know what Kareem stood for and what he stands for now. So, for me to be receiving this award means so much more than a lot of other awards that I’ve ever received.”
“Carmelo Anthony stands on the shoulders of the great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar by demonstrating that social justice and racial equality are crucial to the 21st century NBA,” Marc Morial, the National Urban League president and CEO, said in a statement. “With his active courageous commitment to social justice and racial equality, he stands as a role model for the generation of players who are energized to speak loudly, and act clearly in this transformative moment in American history.”
As the winner of the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Social Justice Champion Award, Anthony was able to present a $100,000 donation to the organization of his choosing. As such, the Portland Art Museum’s Black Arts and Experiences Initiative will receive this monetary gift on his behalf.
“Kareem laid the foundation for us to be able to go out there and continue to fight the fight and continue to use our voice,” Anthony said in a statement. “We know he was a legend on the court. And what he dedicated his life to, but at the end of the day, what he fought for when it comes to equality and he made it his mission and his duty to drive positive change in our community and in our society.”