“Etan is a rare jewel,” L.A. Lakers Guard Derek Fisher wrote of Etan Thomas, the former NBA star who is of Grenadian heritage.

“He’s committed to life outside the NBA. Etan believes there’s a higher purpose, a higher power. He’s committed to using this platform to influence young people and impact lives that will transcend any contributions he has on the court.”

While Etan Thomas had 9-year career in the NBA (2000-2011), it’s clear that he’s driven by the desire to give back. In 2010, he won the National Basketball Players Association Community Contribution Award and in 2009 he was received the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Foundation Inc Legacy Award.

When asked about his connection to the Spice Isle, 36-year-old Thomas told Grenada 40, “Actually my grandmother was the one from Grenada but I knew about my history and my heritage. I had a pride about that instilled in me from an early age. [It’s] a special connection.”

“Even though it was two generations removed I didn’t feel like just my grandmother was from Grenada, I felt like I was from there as well. I would say things like, ‘I have spice in my blood‘. I remember my MySpace name was ‘SonOfGrenada’. I definitely felt connected,” he adds.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Ivan, Thomas donated US$40,000 to funding youth programmes and repairing basketball courts across the country. And he got the NBA and other players to donate US$100,000 too.

Aside from giving money, he also took time to visit his grandmother’s native parish of St Patricks, where he spoke to young people. In an interview with CANA News he said: “My reason for making a contribution was for the people of Sauteurs.

“I’m concerned that the court gets utilised in the way that it is supposed to be, for young people to have a place where they can play and take them off the streets, a place where they can learn organisational skills, learning together and working together, that should be the only thing that matters.”

Beyond Grenada’s shores, Etan has also made a great impact in the US through books, campaigning and work towards social justice and youth empowerment.  In 2012, he released his second book, Fatherhood – Rising to the Ultimate Challenge, and launched the Fatherhood Movement which saw the father-of-three tour across America.

The movement, which continues to grow, features an impressive line-up of celebrities and influential figures who have joined forces to inspire an entire young generation who are growing up without fathers in their homes. In an article for the Huffington Post, he wrote, “There are too many examples of men who were able to be successful and make the right decisions who came from so-called “broken homes.”

His experiences of racism at an early age may have been the grit from which grew his pearls of wisdom on the black experience in contemporary America. He is more likely to be found commenting on America’s racial and social ills than on his former sport.

Indeed he hasn’t held back in criticizing the way in which the $6 billion-a-year National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) exploits young, predominantly black, athletes by refusing to pay them salaries in the expectation students should be grateful for an academic scholarship.

Etan has also show an unwavering commitment to using his position to speak out about the injustices that many black people face in America. Through his media appearances and work for organisations like the NAACP he has is an example that helps in dispelling the myth that black sports stars’ “disconnection from the black community and the retaliation black athletes face from reactionary sports media has fractured the “common cause” that once united all black athletes when they stood for causes for social justice.”