On a rain-soaked Sunday afternoon in Rangoon, a crowd of eager basketball fans braved the weather to come out and welcome a quartet of NBA and WNBA stars at the kickoff event of the State Department's first-ever Sports Envoy program in Burma.
Newly arrived Ambassador Derek Mitchell introduced the four visiting Sports Envoys to the throng of excited onlookers. Charlotte Bobcats General Manager Rich Cho, former WNBA player Allison Feaster, former NBA player Marty Conlon, and Los Angeles Lakers Assistant Coach Darvin Ham took the court and captured everyone's attention. For Rich Cho, who was born in Burma, immigrated to the United States as a young child, and later went on to become the first Asian-American general manager in American major league sports, the trip to Rangoon was an emotional homecoming. The audience cheered as he addressed them with a few words in Burmese and then, along with Darvin and Allison, demonstrated a few of his basketball moves.
During the week-long program, the Sports Envoys took in much of Burma's rich culture, including participating in a few rounds of Chin Lone, or Cane Ball, a traditional sport that combines elements of sport and dance. They also toured the famous Shwedagon Pagoda and, on their last day in country, visited a local orphanage where they made a group donation and met with some of the children who receive free schooling from the Buddhist monks.
With the cooperation of Burma's Ministry of Sports and the National Basketball Federation, the Sports Envoys visited schools and stadiums throughout Rangoon and conducted a series of skills camps and basketball clinics to engage with youth on the importance of academics, cooperation, and respect for diversity. While basketball is still growing in popularity in Burma, the program was an opportunity to connect with diverse groups of Burmese youth in a fun and neutral setting. Participants at every workshop and tournament showed the Envoys their heart, their hustle and their love of the game.