Take it from Alton Byrd, Senior Vice President of Growth Properties at BSE Global and the man who’s run the Long Island Nets since 2016. Community matters!
“We’re a basketball team, but we are people first, and the fact is we want people to see us as: really good people, really good folks to be around, and when they come to see us in the arena, they really are seeing those guys are really good on the court, they’re really good off the court, they’re really good in the community, and that’s what we aspire to be,” says Byrd. “Good people who do good things for communities that really deserve goodness.”
Indeed, when you’re in community with others, you’re looking out for others, trying to do right by them, and working to make the lives of everyone around you better. It takes time, effort, and care to build that community, but when you have it, it’s a beautiful thing and as Long Island’s history shows, it’s working out in Uniondale.
On May 10, the Long Island Nets won the NBA G-League Award for Social Responsibility for the 2021-2022 season. The “W” was the team’s third consecutive win of this award as they previously won the award in the 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 seasons. The team won the award this season for its Black History Month programming. From the team:
The LI Nets commemorated Black History Month by sharing local resources and amplifying educational opportunities for youth and teen organizations throughout the month of February. The team tipped off the month by partnering with the Julius and Joysetta Pearse African American Museum of Nassau County to host 30 students from the Yes We Can Community Center after-school program for a private tour. The museum – only one of two African American museums in the northeast – features programing such as themed exhibits that focus on Black historical figures, events, and art.
As the only pro basketball team east of Brooklyn, the Nets have the ability and wherewithal to connect with Nassau and Suffolk community in a lot of fun and unique ways while at the same time meeting their goal of bringing it closer.
NetsDaily spoke with Byrd not long after Long Island basically retired the Social Responsibility trophy. In our conversation, we spoke in depth about the history programming ... and its impact within the national conversation.
Across the United States, there has been a backlash to teaching Black History. In various places, history isn’t being properly taught and in some instances, outright ignored. Teachers have faced restrictions on the history they are allowed to teach their students and some have left the profession entirely. For Byrd and the LI Nets, educating the public is critical. As he explained to us...
“We’re unapologetic about history being history. We know that there have historical things that have been forgotten by people,” said Byrd who’s an NBA fixture for more than a decade, being a vice president for the Kings and chief revenue officer for the WNBA’s Atlanta Dream.
“There have been things that have happened in history that have been impactful to African-Americans, Latinos, Asian-Americans, to the LGBT community that don’t get taught. We know better. We’re not hiding behind it, and I’ll also tell you that kids know better too. They’re curious. 100 percent of kids are curious, especially in their formative years in that 1-to-5 year old range...
“History is history and no matter how much you try to run from it, it’s history. And it’s gonna come up and so we share the things that we do in social responsibility with all of our colleagues, of all colors, races, and all diversities and we make sure it’s included in what we talk about. We don’t have to broadcast it. If you work with us on the Long Island Nets, you’re gonna get the full spectrum of life in all its colors.”
We also spoke about the anti-racism work the team has done. In 2021, the LI Nets launched “Team Up for Unity,” a community program that works to combat racism in high school sports on Long Island. As Byrd spoke about the importance of sports and ending racism in high school sports, I was reminded of the concept of “modeling.” For those unfamiliar with modeling, it’s “when a person observes the behavior of another and then imitates that behavior.”
In the Nets’ program, the peer-to-peer conversations are of utmost importance. Student athletes have a forum to share their views, come to solutions, etc. It’s important to teach kids early about fairness, equality, and being good community members as early as possible so they can follow those ideals into adulthood and share it with their peers. We asked Byrd about the importance of setting good examples and here’s what he said:
“It’s really important, and it’s part of why we established Team Up for Unity so the peers can really get involved in conversations. Whether you come from Suffolk County or Nassau County, whether you come from a school that has very few people of color to one that has nothing but people of color. At the end of the day, racism is wrong. Bias is wrong. Not supporting young girls who are playing sports is wrong, and treating them as less is wrong. You’re not gonna change that unless you are talking to each other, saying “Hey, I’m holding you accountable. What you’re saying and what you’re doing is not acceptable...”
Sports is supposed to be about enjoyment. It’s supposed to be about getting outside or getting in the gym, competing but enjoying the competition... We wanna make sure that people see us, people don’t see us fighting. People see us talking honestly, openly, with intention about being just good people. It sounds trite, but the fact is that’s what we do everyday.
Byrd said the year-round aspect of Long Island’s programming is a critical part of this work. With so much tragedy brought on by racism in the US, he believes it takes everybody moving in the right direction to stamp it out and create the fair, just, and equitable society we deserve.
“How do we show people that we show up to work everyday, we work together, we work with high schools, we work with colleges, we do panels,” he added. “When we won the award this year, which was around our Black History Month activations, we’ve been doing it for a while and we will continue to do it and we’ll enhance it, and that’s why we work year round. Our community activations are year round. We don’t stop, we think our business is 12 months a year.”
Being open and honest about race is important for our society now and for what we hope to become. Byrd’s point about accountability also resonates because everyone has to be willing to call out harmful things out as they see them and work to hold each other accountable, even if it makes people uncomfortable. Along with that, creating a welcoming environment where you can build community with one another promotes fun, culture, and safety.
The work being done by the Long Island Nets is similar to what’s being done by their peers in the WNBA, the New York Liberty, and with the big club in the NBA, the Brooklyn Nets. When you have platforms like they do, it’s important to use it as much as they can to promote and assist in good causes that better the world around them.
With their work in Long Island and elsewhere in the organization, the Nets have been recognized for what believe is needed and to be willing to step up and do what they can to help out the community. As they continue their work, they will have an opportunity to make the world around them better ... and maybe go for four next season.