Foyled Again

Canouan-born basketball player Adonal Foyle pushes political reform through his NGO Democracy Matters

Adonal Doyle. Photograph courtesy democracymatters.com

When Caribbean Beat profiled Adonal Foyle back in 2001, the Grenadines-born centre for the Golden State Warriors pro basketball team was already showing signs of a budding activism, devoting his off-court time to working with literacy programmes in Oakland, California. Later that year, however, he’d move his commitment to social reform into higher gear, with the formation of Democracy Matters, an organisation focused on getting US college students involved in pro-democracy issues such as election campaign finance reform.

According to its website, Democracy Matters, which now has chapters on campuses throughout the US and has been profiled in the New York Times, “encourages the emergence of a new generation of reform-minded leaders,” a group which Foyle, now 29, insists is not a dying breed.

“During my college years at Colgate [University], I was upset when I heard people talk about how apathetic our generation is,” he writes in a statement on the website. “I believe that our generation is extremely political, but they simply feel that they cannot make a difference.”

In the same piece — headlined “So What Does NBA Basketball Have to Do With Campaign Finance Reform Anyway?” — Foyle suggests the National Basketball Association’s meritocratic system as a model to which politics might aspire. “There is no buying your way into the NBA with money. You are good enough or not; and that is the bottom line . . . The opportunity to bring performance to the table and be judged solely on that basis represents the ideal of justice, an ideal that is approximated in the world of professional basketball,” he writes. “In very much the same way, politics should give all of our gifted and talented citizens an equal chance to compete to serve in political life.”

In the case of another athlete, one might suspect such statements to be the handiwork of a PR machine, but Foyle is as well known in the league for his scholarly ways as for blocking shots (he holds the NCAA record and was ranked seventh in the NBA during the 2001–02 season). He’s also a living example of what an individual can do when given an equal shot at success, for nothing predisposes a boy born on a minuscule island (Canouan, in his case), and who first touched a basketball at the ripe old age of 16, for the life Foyle enjoys today.

Now in his eighth season in the NBA, Foyle first came to the US in 1990, thanks to Jay and Joan Mandle, a pair of American university professors who spotted him at an inter-island tournament in Dominica. Taken more with his personality than with his playing skills, the Mandles — who are also co-founders of Democracy Matters — offered Foyle the opportunity of a life and education in the US, though they never dreamed it would lead to a career in the NBA.

In addition to his work with Democracy Matters, Adonal Foyle is involved in fundraising for AIDS research, serves as commissioner of an after-school basketball programme for Bay Area youth, and is the Warriors’ representative to the NBA Players’ Association. Nor has he neglected his homeland, organising basketball camps and a learning and reading centre in Canouan.

“It’s an unbelievable lifestyle,” Foyle said when Beat interviewed him in 2000, and certainly not one he’s taken for granted.