For Cavs forward Larry Nance Jr., the idea to raise money and awareness for local businesses last season came from a simple conversation in the team’s locker room.
“I started talking with one our trainers in the locker room about the NFL doing ‘My Cause, My Cleats’ and how it would be cool if the NBA did something like that and just going down that rabbit hole,” Nance told Dime. “Just brainstorming, really, to the point of where we realized it might really be possible.”
During the COVID-shortened 72-game season, Nance wore gear from various local businesses — ranging from restaurants to bike shops and everything in-between — and then auctioned off game worn jerseys, shoes, and other memorabilia after the game to raise money for said businesses. When Nance missed games due to injury and a non-COVID illness, teammates such as Darius Garland, Isaac Okoro, and Collin Sexton stepped up to auction off their gear.
“This is coming from someone that doesn’t just want to support you — I also know what’s going on,” Nance said about the project. “They can say ‘I’ve got a store in Broadview Heights’ or wherever, I actually go there and know where that’s at and I can help from a genuine perspective instead of just throwing some money around.”
“This is home for me,” Nance continued. “This community is somewhere that I grew up in. It’s somewhere that I want my daughter to grow up in and, if we have more children, I want them to grow up here. This community has been great to me. It’s all about supporting the people that have supported you, and that’s all of Cleveland, all of Northeast Ohio.”
Nance is also quick to thank his family and members of the Cavs organization credit for helping him manage the entire process. The project, he said, took “hours upon hours” of sorting shirts, unwrapping packages from possible businesses, coordinating calls, and more, to have it run for the entire season.
“I didn’t expect it to be this wildly popular, so when we got over 500 packages of businesses to support, going through those and deciding which ones to represent took a lot of time and effort,” Nance said. “Not just me, but people within the Cavs organization, my wife and my whole family sitting on the floor going through packages and looking up businesses.”
Specifically, Nance said Lauren Marvinney, the Cavs senior director of basketball administration, “saved us.”
“It got to be more than we bargained for, more than we knew is even possible,” Nance noted, mentioning that Marvinney arranged Zoom calls with businesses and organized the auction website. “Without [Lauren], this would not have happened — not even close.”
Beyond raising money for local businesses in need, the 28-year-old Nance also began speaking out more — primarily on Twitter — on issues ranging from gerrymandering in Ohio to LQBTQ rights and voting rights. Nance grew more comfortable engaging in these topics after seeing fellow players like LeBron James and Chris Paul speak up and use their platform.
“In my view, Ohio is behind on so many key issues,” Nance said. “Voting rights is just one. The Equality Act is a major one coming up here soon that I am actually planning on going to Columbus to speak in support of. The gerrymandering going on in Ohio with our voting is ludicrous.”
As he’s become more educated on those issues, Nance wants to use his platform as not just a prominent athlete, but as an Ohioan to advocate for those who don’t have that chance.
“People don’t know that someone could be fired just because they are gay or kicked out of a hotel room or refused housing or evicted or not given a job. At this point in our society, that seems so foreign and Ohio is still doing that,” Nance continued. “So I feel I have the platform to have a few people’s ears, maybe I can get some steam behind making Ohio a better place for everyone. I’m going to keep being vocal on it. It’s not definitely not going to stop.”
Nance isn’t done raising money either. He doesn’t know what the work will look like for 2021-22, but some kind of season-long project to help give back to the community will begin again in the fall.
“There’s so much work to be done,” Nance said. “Last year was just the start of me getting more comfortable in that arena.”