“Off the Rim” is a column by Sarah Ko about basketball.

The long summer wait is over for all NBA fans. Dame D.O.L.L.A. is finally back. More than a SoundCloud trap rapper, All-Star Portland Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard has marked his return with another diss track, clapping back at NBA legend Shaquile O’Neal.

Despite the arrival of the NBA season, a majority of basketball coverage has been on what the athletes are doing in their “spare time.” This raises the question: should NBA players be involved with activities other than satisfying their main employer, the NBA?

The crystal clear answer is yes. NBA players should be allowed to use their athletic platform and fanbase to pursue other interests. However, many critics do not share this sentiment.

Let’s jump back to Feb. 18, 2018.

Fox News anchor Laura Ingraham criticized top NBA stars LeBron James and Kevin Durant for discussing politics on UNINTERRUPTED’s show, ROLLING WITH THE CHAMPION.

“Must they run their mouths like that?” she asked. “There might be a cautionary lesson in LeBron for kids: this is what happens when you leave high school a year early to join the NBA. It’s always unwise to seek political advice from someone who gets paid $100 million a year to bounce a ball. So keep the political commentary to yourself, or as someone once said, ‘Shut up and dribble’”.

The Fox anchor’s comments struck a chord. As a spread of support for James and Durant increased, Fox’s credibility decreased. Durant and James’ entertainment companies, Thirty Five Media and UNINTERRUPTED, respectively, produce content promoting social equity and justice. Since Ingraham’s comments, both have skyrocketed in popularity.

Many other NBA stars such as Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Chris Paul followed in their footsteps, establishing multimedia companies that give athletes a platform to share their voices and opinions. Some have also founded non-profit organizations aimed at giving the underprivileged a chance to feel loved, supported and important.

By taking a ‘dribble’ on globally broadcasted hardwood floors, NBA players have used their stardom and income to perpetuate their second careers as philanthropists. Now, more than ever before, athletes have the space to seek auxiliary opportunities and publicize that globally.

In the past year, LeBron has continued to strengthen UNINTERRUPTED’s “More than an athlete” campaign alongside childhood friend and last year’s Annenberg commencement speaker Maverick Carter. James has produced and starred in several TV shows and movies, as well as inaugurated the I PROMISE School in 2018.

Installing the school is one of the greatest achievements ever by any sports icon. The I PROMISE School remains one of the only schools in the nation to promise enthusiastic youth an academic lifestyle in and out of the school environment. This public institution delivers top-notch curriculum to Akron, Ohio students while providing them with nutritious meal plans and reliable transportation.

So Laura, it’s evident that NBA players shouldn’t just stick to the court, as they continually make an impact in their secondary careers.

Whether it be Lonzo Ball’s mediocre rap album, Kelly Oubre’s fresh modeling career, Swaggy P’s flamboyant clothing company or Kobe’s Oscar-winning short film, NBA players’ presence outside of game does more than meets the eye. They showcase what is more important than being the best competitor in a sport: promoting kindness and selflessness.

NBA players’ passions away from the court are crucial to today’s developing youth, because they show kids the importance of challenging societal stereotypes. Their endeavors serve as a gateway to represent what it means to be “more than an athlete.”

“Off the Rim” runs every Thursday.