Posted October 01, 2013

Ricky Hurtado and Sumner Becker have been working with the Math Hoops team to build a foundation for the official launch of NBA Math Hoops this fall. Here they reflect on an educational summer.

We were introduced to NBA Math Hoops through the only real way to understand what NBA Math Hoops is all about—we played the game. We rolled the dice, we raced to do the mental math, and we flicked the spinner only to have James Harden miss another crucial three pointer (sometimes not even a .390 three-point percentage can overcome the chance wanderings of the spinner). #spinnerproblems aside, it quickly became clear why people were convinced that this startlingly addicting game could help students build foundations for future success in the classroom. Indeed, much of this summer has been about building strong foundations: for the organization, for the broader community, and most importantly, for our students. This groundwork will allow us to begin implementing NBA Math Hoops Chapter Initiatives in NBA cities across the country, starting with Cleveland during the upcoming school year.

Among the many questions to which we have sought answers is how exactly our work benefits our target population. We target those students who are the least engaged in the classroom, who lag behind their peers on basic academic preparedness and testing indicators, and who are overwhelmingly black or Hispanic. While our services and products are designed to work in any variety of classrooms—part of the genius of the game itself is its universal appeal—as an organization that will become visible in black and Hispanic communities, we recognize that we are in a position to reframe the narrative surrounding young students of color. This means painting the same picture with a different palette—reframing the view of young students of color in the public’s eye and in their own eyes by moving from a deficit to an asset-based conversation. Most often these kids are discussed in the context of deficits—lagging test scores, crumbling districts, failing schools. They are presented as liabilities to schools and society, because it is ultimately up to these students as a collective group whether a school makes a passing grade, whether it receives state funding, and so on. Less are they discussed in the public eye for their inherent value as young people, for their talents and their self-worth. NBA Math Hoops has the potential to help shift this paradigm.

Moving this discussion will inevitably require a collaborative effort, and our work this summer has been exactly that. From the very first conception of the NBA Math Hoops board game, a diverse range of stakeholders—Hasbro and the NBA, to name a few—have contributed to the development of the idea and organization. Fittingly, our best work this summer has come from countless hours with the team in front of a white board, dreaming up events and strategies that will reach students who would benefit most from the game and refining the mission and vision of the organization. As we brainstormed and interviewed various stakeholders, we began to see just how crucial the element of community was, not only to the mission, but also to the day-to-day operations of the organization. Our work naturally involves a diverse array of partnerships between school districts, NBA franchises, and external firms, and it is important that we maintain a close community around our organization in order to build NBA Math Hoops communities around the country.

Our conversations have always been pervaded by a sense of urgency, one that stems from the gravity of the themes that we deal with. We have let this urgency guide an emphasis on the depth and quality of our work over its scope and scale. At the same time we have had fun with our work, pooling our collective beliefs and convictions around specific topics to shape a tangible mission and vision for the organization. We’ve worked with champions on the court to create champions in the classroom. The experience has solidified our individual commitments both to education reform and to our target population, and we will forever be champions of an equitable, engaging education for all students. We call on you to join us in building the NBA Math Hoops community.