Learning the Game of Philanthropy A conversation with…Nicky (36), retired NBA player, and Desiree (38) (in italics), his wife, Glencoe, Illinois

A successful athlete and his wife were committed to helping kids from his neighborhood, but it wasn’t until he retired that they really began to focus their philanthropy. Creating a foundation, and working together on identifying ways to make their philanthropy more meaningful became a full time job for them.

“Ever since I was in grade school, as good as I was at basketball I was never a great one-on-on player.  I was always at my best when I was on a team. And I was a point guard, so you know how important team play is!”

“I remember his mother telling me over dinner the night before we got married how she always knew Nicky had it in him to become a star.  And not just because he was bigger than most kids, but because he had something about him that was different – and different in a good way (laughing).  I remember the word she used was “special”…And she told me she had always tried extra hard to teach him two things…the importance of being humble and the need to always give back to others, because – and this was her line – all the gifts he had were gifts God had given him.

We used to give to a handful of charities when Nicky was playing because his accountant told us it would make financial sense.  But when he retired and the kids got older, we decided to stop just writing checks and get more involved.”

“In the NBA you got a bunch of kids who are suddenly making millions, and a lot of ‘em come from really tough neighborhoods.  My neighborhood wasn’t as bad as others, but still when I first started going back to the old neighborhood, it was hard to think about how I had so much more than a lot of the folks there and I wanted to do something not just hand them money...that wasn’t going to make their lives different for more than a minute!” 

 “We had some very good advisors working for us, they encouraged us to start a foundation to house our philanthropy. We had a lot of money in the foundation and a lot of ideas.”

“Problem is we were given a fancy vehicle but no one taught us how to drive! We didn't know how to hire anyone, what the rules of the road were I guess. We had no idea how to manage the foundation, we didn’t know a lot about grantmaking or anything else.  

I wanted to help kids, because back east when I was a kid if it wasn’t for my mother a few other adults in my life, who knows how different things might have gone?  And with so many organizations out there for kids, and so many different programs and approaches we were getting overwhelmed. We just wanted to make sure we were giving our money to actually help kids – especially the ones without the kind of role models I had.”

"We had a foundation but didn't know how to 
manage it."

We learned a lot about ourselves while we were learning about philanthropy. We learned that we both wanted to be involved in our foundation and not just let other people make all the decisions.”

“We didn't want to burden our kids with having to manage it after we were gone so we were told to let it...what was it they said?"

"Sunset. We should spend down-see how much we've learned- by a certain date."

"Right, and we learned everything from folks who knew how to make sure we didn't screw up...we are right up front, not just the face of the foundation-we are the foundation!"

And we’re busier now than when Nick was playing and traveling. It’s been quite a journey, but we’ve done it as a team, and I think it’s made us better people and better parents.”

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