Kathy Behrens graduated from the University of Hartford in 1985 with an extensive resume that included three years of playing tennis, two years playing basketball and a variety of accomplishments off the court such as serving on the senate her junior year and as the Student Government Association President as a senior. Currently, Behrens is working with the NBA as the Executive Vice President, Social Responsibility & Player Programs.
This past May, the University of Hartford welcomed her back and presented her with the Vincent Brown Coffin Award (professional achievement by a former student athlete) at the 2014 Alumni Athletics Hall of Fame Dinner.
“It was a super fun night and great to be back with my friends & family,” described Behrens who recently took the time to reflect on her experiences. “I come back to the University fairly regularly because I’m on the Board of Regents, but to be able to experience the Hall of fame Dinner and go down memory lane was very special. I always think my sports background prepared me for after college because it’s a competitive environment and you have to deliver in a different way than you do on the court.”
Following college, Behrens wanted to learn the ins and outs of fundraising. She did so while working for former New York Governor Mario Cuomo for seven years in various capacities and also with United Way. In 1995, Behrens began working as the executive director for New York Cares, a non-profit organization still near and dear to her heart.
In 2000 the NBA commissioner David Stern called Behrens, approaching her about becoming the Vice President of Community Relations for the NBA and she accepted.
“With basketball being a big part of my life, I thought it was a great opportunity and a great time in my life for a career change. I loved the sport and I understood how much of an emphasis the NBA wanted to place on community service and how much it values the work it’s players and teams do around the world.”
In fourteen years Behrens role with the NBA has changed and expanded. She has pioneered a number of important NBA community service initatives that have made a huge impact around the world. In 2005 she spearheaded the NBA Cares program, which she describes as “an umbrella to connect our players, teams and employee’s and capture the different things they were doing.” Through NBA Cares, the NBA & WNBA have traveled to over 900 places around the world renovating homes for veterans and the elderly, going into schools and Boys and Girls Clubs, and performing a “day of service” each year during the NBA All-Star Weekend. One of her proudest memories was the day of service in New Orleans’s after Hurricane Katrina.
Behrens has developed and overseen numerous initiatives such as NBA Fit, a program to help children lead active and healthy lifestyles, Share Our Strengths, which provides children access to nutritious food and prevent hunger, and Basketball Without Boarders where NBA & WNBA players travel around the world growing the game of basketball and demonstrate the commitment to giving back. Under her leadership, the NBA & WNBA have also worked with programs focusing on ending homophobia in sports.
“Respect, inclusion and diversity are things we feel really strongly about,” explained Behrens.
Despite her tireless work and busy travel schedule, Behrens still finds time to give back and support the University of Hartford.
“I loved the University of Hartford and I still come back and participate because I’m still connected. I made life long friends. The things I did athletically and with the student government were transformative for me.”
Behrens also credits the University of Hartford for distinguishing a culture of giving back to the community. “Being a leader in the community is part of the culture at Hartford. It’s not just about the people your helping, it’s also important for the people doing the helping. It’s a real differentiator for Hartford and it can really change the culture your trying to create when community service is in your DNA.”