Today, we’re excited to check in with Chris Clunie (PPI-SA ’07), the Senior Coordinator for the NBA’s International Basketball Operations. Chris reflects on his work on PPI-SA’s Leadership Development Program, as well as how the experience has influenced his own career.
Can you tell us more about your work with the NBA? What did you take with you from your PPI experience?
I’ve been working with the NBA for a little over 4 years. We work on anything that the NBA is involved with internationally from a development and operations perspective. We do everything from coaching clinics to preseason games to youth camps, and we even do things with the Olympics. My time at PPI was short, only about 6 months, but it impacted me greatly. I was in Africa for a year on a Watson Fellowship, and I wanted to work with PeacePlayers to see how a nonprofit basketball organization worked, as well as how basketball can affect social change. It turned into a great job. So much of what I did with PPI, and what I did during that year in general, is exactly what I do now.
What are some of your best memories of your work with PPI-SA?
I was mainly tasked to rebuild the Leadership Development Program with Menzi Zungu, the Program Manager. I was helping him put together an integrated curriculum to combine life skills education with basketball. We were training the coaches and refining the youth development side. We went out all week to the six program sites to help coaches run practices. We gave them instruction and guidance on how to better their players. On Saturdays, our whole group took on the task of doing the Leadership Development Program. We looked at how to incorporate character education, HIV/AIDS, racism, racial tension, and other topics we felt were important to the players. Our goal was to help people become better coaches and mentors.
It was amazing to be with PPI at that time. I came in with three other PeacePlayers International Fellows: Justin Kidwell, Raquel Thompson, and David Flynn. It was really cool because we were all learning together. The local staff, everybody- it very much felt like a family. It was about being there to help each other.
I remember one big launch where there was music and dancing. It was so much fun. We put up a court and ran a clinic for the kids, and I got to see a city-wide tournament before I left. But the best part of the whole experience was really the day-to-day, the relationships I built with coaches and players. We still keep in touch.
Does your work bring you back to Africa?
I’ve been back to Africa on business for the Basketball Without Borders program, and I’ve been able to go back to Durban a couple of times. In 2008, I visited Durban right after an NBA camp, so I was able to bring shoes, jerseys, shorts, and t-shirts. It was great to be able to give back in that way. In 2009, I also got to go back. There was a PPI tournament that weekend, and I went with Tal Alter to see the games. On that trip, I reconnected with a player who had lost his mother while I was there in 2007. It was a great chance to see everyone. Last year, we did our NBA camp in Johannesburg, and PPI staff came up to help out.
Can you tell us more about how PPI works to develop sustainable local programs like the Leadership Development Program?
I think the work is really about sharing knowledge and expertise- you’re going out there to teach your colleagues what you know, but you also have to be willing to be taught. Here’s how we do things where I’m from, show me how you do things here, and let’s put two and two together and better this program. It was really a period of collaborating and exchanging ideas, and that’s when everybody grows. Living in South Africa and working with PPI changed my life. I wouldn’t be where I am now without that experience.