U.S. Department of State, NBA tip off 2011 sports program with first joint trip to India

This press release is from the U.S. Department of State:

The U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and the National Basketball Association (NBA) announced today that they will tip off their 2011 sports envoy program with their first-ever joint trip to India. NBA Hall of Famer George “The Iceman” Gervin and two-time WNBA Champion Katie Smith will visit Mumbai and New Delhi from February 22 to March 2, where they will conduct basketball clinics with Indian youth, meet with university students, and participate in local community events in underserved areas.

Sports diplomacy envoys build on Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s vision of “smart power diplomacy,” which embraces the use of a full range of diplomatic tools – in this case the game of basketball – to bring people together and foster greater understanding among people and cultures.

In addition to the events in India, current and former NBA and WNBA players will lead programs in the Dominican Republic, Haiti, India, Jordan, Republic of the Congo, Uzbekistan, and Venezuela during the 2011 sports envoy season. The full lineup of players will be released at a later date.

Gervin, a former San Antonio Spur, is a three-time NBA champion and was voted to the NBA’s 50 Greatest Players list in 1996.  Smith is a six-time WNBA All-Star for the Washington Mystics.

In addition to participating in events with the U.S. Department of State, Gervin and Smith will attend the finals of the Mahindra NBA Challenge, the largest, multicity basketball league in the country, which the NBA conducts in collaboration with the Basketball Federation of India (BFI).

The Mahindra NBA Challenge finals in Mumbai will take place on Feb. 26 at the Don Bosco High School and in Delhi on Feb. 27 at the Oxford Senior Secondary School.  The program has attracted thousands of participants, including members of India’s Men’s and Women’s National Team.

Previous sports envoy program diplomats include: Willie Green of the New Orleans Hornets; Miami Heat Head Coach Erik Spoelstra; former NBA player and Olympic gold medalist Sam Perkins; NBA Legend Billy Owens; and WNBA basketball greats Cynthia Cooper and Sue Wicks.  Since 2004, in partnership with SportsUnited, 42 NBA and WNBA players and coaches have visited 19 different countries, where they have conducted hundreds of basketball clinics for thousands of young boys and girls and coaches.

SportsUnited is the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs’ premier sports exchange program at the U.S. Department of State.  Athletes and coaches in various sports are chosen to conduct clinics, visit schools, and engage youth overseas in a dialogue on the importance of an education, positive health practices, and respect for diversity.  Since 2003, SportsUnited has brought more than 600 athletes from 44 countries to the U.S. to participate in Sports Visitor programs.  Since 2005, SportsUnited has sent more than 100 U.S. athletes to 40 countries to participate in Sports Envoy programs.