By Zach Servideo
Neil Jacobs is the president and founder of the 3Point Foundation, a non-profit organization that offers free educational, sports and dance programming to under-served youth in Boston. Working closely with the Boston Celtics, Boston Public Schools, UMass Boston and additional partners, Jacobs and 3Point are on a mission to improve the lives of Boston’s youth through positive reinforcement in the classroom and through group athletics.
Prior to 3Point Foundation, Jacobs served as outside team counsel for the Boston Celtics for 30 years, making it no surprise that 3Point is a community partner of the Boston Celtics Shamrock Foundation. In fact, Celtics owner Wyc Grousbeck is one of the first people Jacobs pitched the idea of 3Point Foundation to.
Toward the end of our podcast discussion, Jacobs shares a remarkable first-hand account of when the Toronto Blue Jays sued the Boston Celtics over the rights of Danny Ainge, including some incredible insight into the mind of Celtics legendary coach and general manager Red Auerbach (see the 59:00 minute mark). Listen here:
A retired partner of the Wilmer Hale law firm, Jacobs has spent decades involved in numerous education and basketball programs for youth.
Now serving more than 250 students, 3Point runs after-school programs in Boston K-8 schools and operates summer programming at two locations.
Jacobs is responsible for the overall management and strategic direction of 3Point, and he’s helped 3Point pivot to a virtual education model during the pandemic.
Enjoy an abridged version of our podcast interview with Jacobs below.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up locally in Newton in a relatively affluent Jewish neighborhood, but went to secondary school in western Massachusetts at Deerfield Academy. Other than my parents, Deerfield had the most impact on my development growing up.
What’s the most important lesson you learned from your parents?
Giving attention to and recognizing the worth of everyone regardless of social status or race. They also emphasized the importance of acting to improve the world. In my tradition that is called “Tikun olam” which means to act constructively to benefit others.
How would you describe your childhood?
I had wonderfully supportive and caring parents, was materially well-off, did well in school and was passionate about athletics, but certain aspects of my childhood were difficult. I was competitive and aggressive and sports was a great outlet. However, I also had more than my share of school yard fights. I went to Deerfield because I needed to start over. I had wonderful teachers and mentors at Deerfield and began to focus on academics.
What led you to a career in law?
At Harvard, my undergraduate major was political theory. I was fascinated by the study of philosophy regarding different concepts of justice and what was the right thing to do. Law seemed like the practical application of what I had studied.
What’s your favorite thing about having worked with the Boston Celtics for 30 years? (And on the podcast, you can tell us your favorite story.)
I love sports so being on the inside of a professional basketball team’s operations was a dream come true. My favorite thing about working for the Celtics has been working with the team’s ownership, management and staff and becoming a trusted advisor. My favorite story involves the antics by which Red Auerbach snared Danny Ainge as a player after Danny had committed to a professional baseball career with the Toronto Blue Jays.
When did you first come up with the idea to create the 3point Foundation?
In my late 50s early 60s, I was thinking about retirement which is mandatory at my firm at age 65. I pitched the idea of 3Point to Wyc Grousbeck, the Celtics Managing Partner, and proposed that the Celtics should initiate after-school and summer programming. He said that I seemed so passionate about it, that I should do it, and the Celtics would help.
You’ve done a great job partnering with local organizations and universities. Can you list some of your notable partnerships and share any detail on how you partner?
We have had wonderful partnerships. There would not be the organization we have today or the impact we have had on our youth without the University of Massachusetts Boston. 3Point has become a signature program for the College of Education and Human Development at UMass Boston and we have over 60 UMass Boston students working annually with our youth in BPS classrooms . Our summer program is rooted in our partnership with the Fessenden School in Newton which donates its facilities to 3Point and has played an important role in our curriculum development. Our students also benefit enormously from our partnership with the Boston Police Department, the Mayor’s Office and the seven Boston Public Schools with whom we work.
Why is helping under-served youth in Boston so important to you?
Youth are our future. Each child starts out with unlimited potential. However, the under-served economically disadvantaged youth with whom we work experience inequities in opportunities to learn, develop, and connect that have pernicious effects on life outcomes in health, education, and social mobility. All children are morally equal at birth . None of them chose the circumstances in which they find themselves. Not to try to level the playing field would be to fail as a human being.
How are you shifting what 3Point offers due to in-person restrictions during the pandemic?
3Point went virtual one week after the Boston Public Schools closed in March this year. We experimented in this medium and found ways to authentically engage with our students by changing our format, our program content and using video to our advantage. There are enormous opportunities that remote programming provides. We introduced a speakers series for our students focusing on social change that gave our students access to community leaders, prominent public officials, Celtics personnel, and leadership from the Boston Police Department. This could not have been done with in-person programming.
Are there any new initiatives at 3Point you’d like to share?
There is a new initiative planned for the late spring if in-person activities can be safely conducted . Working with BPS Athletics, we are planning to start a 9th grade basketball league for boys and girls in six high schools in which is embedded a curriculum to foster social-emotional growth. We also plan to expand our program to six new K-8 schools that do not now offer basketball programs and create our second K-8 school league. Of course, all of this depends on the health situation.
What’s your long-term goal for 3Point? Where do you want the organization to be in 5 years?
3Point has always been about closing the opportunity and achievement gap for underserved youth of color through learning programs that develop 21st century skills and foster social-emotional growth. We are a transformational program focused on students in grades 5–8. To fully achieve our mission it has become apparent that we will need to provide or arrange for support for our students during their journey through high school and college. I see that structure being put in place as the next strategic step for 3Point. Additionally we are working on other models which will make our programming and curriculum available to community organizations in other cities.
What’s the biggest challenge facing the world you’d most like to see solved?
From a world perspective, I think the pandemic needs to be addressed. From the perspective of the world in which I work, other than the pandemic, the biggest challenge that needs to be solved are the inequities that exist because of race and related social and economic conditions.