Former American basketball All-Stars Alex English and Nykesha Sales believe playing sports can open up different opportunities in life for young people.
Recently appointed as “Sports Envoys” by the U.S. State Department, English and Sales, currently visiting South Korea, said they cherish the chance to teach children the value of basketball, which transcends making plays on the court.
“We teach them the game of basketball and also talk about some of the things we went through as young basketball players coming up in America,” English said in an interview with Yonhap News Agency on Tuesday. “It‘s a lot about diversity and how important it is to be inclusive.”
The State Department has sent over 220 American athletes to more than 50 countries through its Sports Envoys programs since 2003, with a goal of reaching out to underrepresented or underprivileged audiences.
Sales, who has also traveled to Ukraine and Venezuela as a Sports Envoy, said she enjoys being part of the program because it’s “a fun and creative way to teach sportsmanship and bring different backgrounds together.”
“We teach the game of basketball but we also teach a lot of other things that our youths need to know,” she said. “Sometimes, you have people come and give lectures to the kids. I think this is a different way to reach out to them.”
English, 60, was the most prolific NBA scorer in the 1980s and was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1997.
The eight-time All-Star led the high-octane Denver Nuggets to nine consecutive playoffs. He was the 1983 scoring champ, and was the first player to score at least 2,000 points in eight seasons in a row. He retired in 1991 with a career scoring average of 21.5 points per game.
English said he didn‘t let his underprivileged upbringing get in the way of his basketball career. And it’s this message he wants to deliver to orphans, athletes with disabilities, and children of mixed ethnicity that he and Sales are going to meet here.
“I came from a low-income family in the U.S, and just through basketball and education, I was able to improve my lot in life,” he said. “It doesn‘t matter what background you come from. You can pretty much do what you want to do and be what you want to be.
Being an orphan doesn’t stop you from being the best that you can be and lifting yourself up.”
Sales, 38, enjoyed a stellar collegiate career with the University of Connecticut and was selected to seven WNBA All-Star teams in her nine pro seasons while averaging 14.2 points a game.
She also led the Connecticut Suns to the WNBA Finals in 2004 and 2005.
She stressed that the Sports Envoy program is designed to promote that “everyone is equal” in the realm of sports.
“We try to teach them sportsmanship together, and you can teach the same message (to underprivileged children),” Sales said.
“Having played basketball, now I am able to get back to my community. It‘s a sport that (allows you to) give back a lot, and we can teach that message, too.” (Yonhap)