SALT LAKE CITY — Rudy Gobert has never been one to shy away from being honest about his feelings. He's also reliable for an insightful or entertaining quote with his sincerity, openness, competitiveness and amicable personality.
Those are among the reasons why the Stifle Tower, who blocks shots but usually not interview requests, has been nominated for the Magic Johnson Award. This annual honor presented by the Professional Basketball Writers Association, recognizes the NBA player "who best combines excellence on the court with cooperation with the media and fans."
Gobert, Bradley Beal (Washington), Draymond Green (Golden State), Nikola Vucevic (Orlando) and Dwyane Wade (Miami) are the finalists.
The PBWA also announced finalists for its other awards, which are voted on by current members of the organization.
All 30 teams made nominations for the J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award. The five finalists for that recognition were determined by a committee of 25 PBWA members who reviewed the teams' nominations and conducted a vote.
The citizenship award has been given since the 1974-75 season to a player, coach or athletic trainer who shows "outstanding service and dedication to the community."
The five finalists include former Weber State star Damian Lillard (Portland); Bismack Biyombo (Charlotte); Devin Booker (Phoenix); Mike Conley (Memphis) and Steve Kerr (Golden State).
Finalists for the Rudy Tomjanovich Award, given to coaches who excel on the court and cooperate with media and fans, are Kenny Atkinson (Brooklyn), Mike D'Antoni (Houston), Michael Malone (Denver), Nate McMillan (Indiana) and Doc Rivers (L.A. Clippers).
The PBWA also honors the top NBA PR staff with the Brian McIntyre Award. The final five: Charlotte, Golden State, Indiana, Phoenix and Toronto.
Here are the nomination blurbs for the J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award from the PBWA press release:
Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers
Damian Lillard encourages all youth to Show Up, Work Hard and Be Kind.
Through his Respect program, originally launched in the 2012-13 season as an NBA rookie, he encourages youth to show respect for all people.
Lillard is now focusing his efforts to inspire ongoing, respectful behavior among youth by partnering with three Portland-Area High Schools — Madison, Parkrose and Roosevelt — during the 2018-19 school year. Throughout the year, teachers and counselors have been empowered to reward students who have embodied the principles of Respect with tickets to Trail Blazers games, Lillard-signed items, Respect merchandise, special events with Damian and other special giveaways.
He has worked directly with school administrators and principals to identify their highest needs, such as increasing attendance in order to increase graduation rates and align them with his message around respect.
Damian has visited the schools multiple times, hosted an event with teachers to discuss the program and receive feedback, put on a holiday event with students and teachers and celebrated students with a year-end event to learn about the outcomes of the program from the students themselves.
Schools have reported tangible results from his efforts, including less fighting at school, increased attendance rates and more engagement with teachers and coursework. Damian has served as a Global Ambassador for Special Olympics since 2013, and recently participated in the 8th Annual NBA Cares Special Olympics Unified Game during the 2019 All-Star weekend in Charlotte. He was the honorary coach to 12 Special Olympics basketball players. Damian conducts himself respectfully on and off the court, and his efforts to spread his message to the next generation come from a sincere and passionate place — he is a player who truly cares about young people and improving their lives through respect.
Bismack Biyombo, Charlotte Hornets
Bismack Biyombo has dedicated himself to giving back to the place that shaped who he has become today. A native of Democratic Republic of the Congo who has invested his NBA salary back into his home country through a number of projects, Biyombo is well-versed on the political and social issues facing DRC and all of Africa and has aspirations to return to Africa and help the development of the continent when his career concludes.
Presently, Bismack has identified the opportunity to invest his time and money in the youth of his native continent as the biggest opportunity for him to make a difference. He has provided dozens of youth scholarships for children to come to high school in the United States, invested in local hospitals and infrastructure and co-founded the Kivu International School in 2017, which sends 150 children per year to middle and high school in DRC. The school features the first indoor basketball stadium in DRC, and Bismack has used his personal resources and business relationships (with Jordan Brand and others) to provide athletic equipment and apparel to the nearly 500 kids that attend the school and enable participation in his Child of Africa basketball academies. He is currently working on a second school, which is set to open in 2020.
People around the world are starting to take notice of the impact of Biyombo’s work. This past summer, he joined President Obama at the opening of the Sauti Kuu Foundation’s new sports and education facility in Kenya, received the Global Good Award from BET, Harvard’s Global Catalyst Award, the Johan Kloss Humanitarian Award from Right to Play and again served as an NBA ambassador for their annual NBA Africa game.
Devin Booker, Phoenix Suns
Devin Booker has quickly become a fan favorite in Phoenix, and while much of that can be attributed to his contributions on the court, fans across the Valley have taken notice of Devin’s contributions off the court. Devin has not only made Phoenix his home, but he has fully committed to making a lasting impact on the Arizona community that has welcomed him with open arms since he was drafted.
This past year during Phoenix Suns Charities’ annual Jump Ball Gala, Devin announced he would be donating $2.5 million over the next five years to create the “Devin Booker Starting Five” initiative in a generous act of his commitment to impacting the lives of Arizona families. Over the duration of his contract, Devin will donate $500,000 per year to Phoenix Suns Charities to create the initiative in which five deserving local nonprofit organizations will be granted $100,000 each to continue improving the lives of youth and families in need throughout Arizona.
In addition to understanding the effect of large-scale financial contributions to worthy nonprofit organizations, Devin is passionate about spending his time with children and families in need, and understands the profound impact of these personal interactions. This season, Devin made a surprise visit to Phoenix Children’s Hospital, visiting sick patients’ bedsides, where he helped kids forget about being in a hospital for just a moment. After going bedside, Devin spent time at the hospital in “The Zone,” playing video games, air hockey and taking photos with young patients and their families. Devin continued his holiday giving when he partnered with Child Crisis Arizona, an organization that works with foster children and newly adopted youth, for a surprise shopping spree. Devin invited 15 kids from Child Crisis Arizona to shop alongside him at Finish Line, a shoes and apparel store, where he generously provided each child with $1,000 to purchase shoes and clothes for themselves and their families, giving them an experience of a lifetime they will never forget.
Devin’s commitment to the Arizona community is something that should not go unnoticed. At the young age of 22, Devin has shown a mindful perspective beyond his years, and he is only just beginning. Devin is eager to find new and unique ways to continue to impact the community, and he is just as hungry to become a star off the court as he is on it.
Mike Conley, Memphis Grizzlies
Mike Conley continues to be a leader both on and off the court. He is an active board member for the Memphis Grizzlies Foundation and has hosted numerous events and fundraisers in support of several causes. Conley has donated over $1.2 million to the Grizzlies Foundation, which focuses on creating and implementing programs to help students develop and maximize their potential.
The foundation also supports Grizzlies Preparatory School which primarily focuses on educating, shaping and providing opportunities for young men of color in Memphis. Conley was awarded with the January NBA Cares Community Assist Award, and on behalf of Conley, the NBA and Kaiser Permanente donated $10,000 to Grizzlies Prep. He is also a finalist for the Seasonlong NBA Cares Community Assist award, to be named later in May.
As part of National Mentoring Month and to honor the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Conley was a part of a TNT feature that focused on the work NBA players are doing with local schools. Conley participated in a conversation, alongside NBA legend Isiah Thomas, with five students from Grizzlies Prep. The opportunity allowed Conley to have an open dialogue with young scholars on social justice and how they can honor the work and legacy of Dr. King. Conley touched on using his platform as a professional athlete to bring awareness to social injustices, and the importance of being involved with the next generation, before leading the students on a tour of the National Civil Rights Museum.
In addition, recently Conley and the Grizzlies invited the family of 9-year-old Kameren Johnson to a home game at FedEx Forum. Kameren was on an Arkansas bus carrying Orange Mound Youth Association football players when the bus crashed and tragically took Kameren’s life. Conley also invited teammates and coaches to sit courtside with Kameren’s family. Following the game, he donated $15,000 to assist with medical bills and counseling for all of Johnson’s teammates and donated a customized pair of game-worn sneakers to Johnson’s mother.
This past September, Conley hosted his 10th annual “Mike Conley Bowl-N-Bash,” a fundraising bowling event that benefits the Methodist Healthcare Comprehensive Sickle Cell Center, which raised over $100,000. Conley and his family announced a $500,000 donation to support the Sickle Cell Center in late April. In recognition of this commitment and generosity, the Center’s clinic space will now be named The Mike and Mary Conley Comprehensive Sickle Cell Clinic.
Steve Kerr, Golden State Warriors
Since the 2016-17 season, Warriors head coach Steve Kerr has donated all of the proceeds from his various speaking engagements — totaling more than $1.4 million — to a fund through the Warriors Community Foundation, including more than $700,000 over the course of the 2018-19 season. The vast majority of those funds are allocated to a scholarship through the East Bay College Fund, which Kerr established in honor of his late father, Dr. Malcolm Kerr, sending 75 students from low-income and underrepresented communities to college thus far.
While his speaking engagements — which range from weekly radio shows to private events at major tech companies in the Bay Area such as Facebook and Salesforce — provide financial means to the college fund, Kerr does not limit his prominent voice to those outings.
Throughout the season, he meets with countless community groups after games and practices and uses his platform — both through traditional and social media — to bring light to social injustice and serve as an advocate for gun reform. Additionally, he plays an active role with the Positive Coaching Alliance, which aims to transform the youth sports culture to ensure all youth and high school athletes have positive, character-building experiences, and serves on the board of directors for Peace Players International, a Washington, D.C.-based organization that uses basketball as a means to bridge cultural gaps in areas of political, racial and religious conflict.Comment on this story
Kerr’s benevolence stems from a rich family history of social and political awareness. In February, Kerr attended an emotional fundraiser at San Francisco’s KZV Armenian School, celebrating his grandparents Stanley and Elsa Kerr, who risked their lives to provide shelter to thousands of orphans from Armenian Genocide. Kerr’s father, Malcolm, was a professor at UCLA and later became President of American University of Beirut until he was assassinated by gunmen in 1984, when Steve was a freshman at Arizona.