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Former first daughter Barbara Bush tells AP about helping lead NBA’s social responsibility efforts

Barbara Bush never got to any of the NBA championship celebrations held at the White House when her grandfather was president of the United States. Never got to one when her father occupied the Oval Office, either.

She got to the one held for Golden State earlier this year — as an NBA employee.

The former first daughter, very quietly in deference to her desire to keep many details of her life private, has worked for the NBA for the past year after connecting with the league during the pandemic on some health-related and social justice initiatives. The league has now announced that Bush was recently promoted to lead its social responsibility department, helping oversee initiatives surrounding racial justice, public service, health matters including mental health, community partnerships and more.

“I believe in the same values as the NBA, which is why I chose to work here,” Bush said in an interview with The Associated Press. “And the work is what matters to me. If that does mean, you know, sometimes being out there within my comfort level, that’s OK with me. It’s not about me. The NBA, we’re using all the resources that we have to create awe-inspiring moments for people to come together when we’re in sort of a loneliness crisis. That is meaningful to me.”

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The granddaughter of President George H.W. Bush and the daughter of President George W. Bush had found herself aligned with the NBA before on various issues through her work as a co-founder of the Global Health Corps. But she never envisioned actually working for the league, until the COVID-19 pandemic made her take notice.

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Bush still remembers the moments in 2020, with the world still largely locked down in the early days of the pandemic, when she would think about what best to do next. She studied what promises companies were making, then what they did to back up those promises, and if they were making any real impact.

The NBA stood out.

“I looked around at who was making statements and who was walking the walk,” Bush said. “And I felt like the NBA really was.”

She joined the NBA two years later, with no designs of using her political dynasty of a last name as her way to get things done. Her hiring was kept so quiet that shortly after she got hired at the NBA, two other employees spotted her in a break room and couldn’t believe how much their new colleague looked like Barbara Bush.

Days later, they learned that it really was Barbara Bush.

“The fact that Barbara has the family name that she does was of no bearing during the process,” said Kathy Behrens, the NBA’s president of social responsibility and player programs. “If she didn’t have the experience that she has, and frankly, more importantly, if she didn’t do as well as she did during the past year, there wouldn’t be this promotion. This is an opportunity to both recognize the contributions she’s made and the work she’s done, but also the work that we know she can do in leading us now going forward.”

Bush was in the East Room when President Joe Biden welcomed the Warriors back in January to commemorate their 2022 NBA title. The day was a whirlwind of emotions for Bush, who was moved by how much the Warriors enjoyed the visit — and brought to tears herself when she saw reminders of her time at the White House, including reconnecting with a gardener who has been there for a half-century.

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That day stressed to her how much attention the NBA and its players and coaches can generate for causes and movements, and how powerful a platform the league has. There have been plenty of other reminders that she cited — the revelations by DeMar DeRozan and Kevin Love about their struggles with mental health, and how players mobilized in the restart “bubble” environment to speak out against the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and demanded that the league and its teams immediately put money where it’s needed. (Those players got the league to create a foundation backed by $300 million dedicated to creating greater economic empowerment in the Black community.)

“Everyone’s heard of the NBA,” Bush said. “And obviously, our business is basketball. But if we can also use our platform to make an impact in the communities where we have teams and then more broadly around the world, that can move the needle in a way that the reach of nonprofits never will. And so, we started talking and I got increasingly more excited about coming to work here and figuring out how we can work on basketball and also issues that impact our fans’ lives every day.”