The American Airlines Center felt like a pep rally early Tuesday morning, as dozens of high school girls joined the Dallas Mavericks to celebrate International Women’s Day. 

It was a momentous occasion for the franchise because the event also marked the first anniversary of the Mavs’ GEM program — which stands for Girls Empowered by Mavs

During the pandemic, Mavs Academy youth basketball senior coordinator Kelli Robinson spent hours upon hours on Zoom visiting with girls between ages 9-14. 

She realized that age group in particular not only needed — but deserved — more attention, care and encouragement, and the Mavs agreed. 

GEM was born from there, and the program has reached hundreds of young women across North Texas through numerous programs and outreach endeavors. Tuesday morning’s International Women’s Day celebration was an accumulation of countless efforts and jumpstarts Women’s History Month for the franchise. 

This year is incredibly unique because it’s the 50th Anniversary of Title IX, landmark legislation for gender equality in sports. Five decades ago, Congress advanced and passed legislation that forever changed the trajectory of women’s sports in the United States. 

The federal law signed in June 1972 also prohibits gender discrimination for boys or girls in educational programs and activities receiving federal financial assistance.

“Title IX is probably the most important law passed for women and girls in Congress since women obtained the right to vote in 1920,” said Bernice Sandler, who was a part-time University of Maryland professor and a women’s rights activist who helped make its case.

Sports teams across the country and locally are commemorating 50 years of women’s sports advancement with opportunities and initiatives throughout this next year. Dallas will also have a unique role because the NCAA Title IX efforts and celebration will culminate at the 2023 Women’s Final Four in Dallas, where Divisions I, II and III will hold their basketball championships. 

The GEM program was launched at the perfect time.

Tuesday morning, girls athletic teams from all over North Texas, as well as girls from the International Leadership of Texas campuses, attended the GEM’s International Women’s Day Celebration on the concourse of the AAC. Guest speakers from the community spoke on array of topics and then the high schoolers branched off into smaller groups with leaders from the Mavs Academy.

“It’s all about you,” Dallas Mavs CEO Cynt Marshall said, as she welcomed everyone to the event. I want you to tell yourself that in the mirror every morning — it’s all about you! Happy International Women’s Day!”

Dallas Mavericks assistant coach and WNBA superstar Kristi Toliver was the featured guest at the women’s celebration and she arrived Tuesday with plenty of energy after the Mavs secured their fifth straight win Monday night.

Toliver understands firsthand the importance of gender equality, and that was her message to the young girls at the GEM celebration. She told the youth never to underestimate their power. 

“The message is pretty clear that women can do anything,” said Toliver, who won an NCAA championship with Maryland in 2006.

“You guys can do anything. I’m just kind of a vehicle and the bridge right now between the WNBA and NBA, for sure. I’m so thankful to be in this position, but you guys will be in such greater positions when it’s your time. That’s why I take my job so seriously, both on the court and coaching behind the lines. I want to do my best so that you can do whatever you want in life — and you will.”

Both Toliver and Marshall spoke from the heart and stressed the importance of dreaming big and chasing after their goals.

“I just had this belief that if I put the work in and I was determined, and I sacrificed, and if I did all the right things, that I was capable of anything,” Toliver explained to the high school girls. “And I’m proof of that. So, believe in yourself, believe in your friends. Use one another to reach your goals, and anything is possible.” 


The idea for GEM was born in January 2020 when the Mavs Academy staff gathered together in a conference room for a weekly meeting. A short time later, Dallas Mavericks senior vice president Greg Nared noticed a text message on his phone.

It was from one of his former players who was ready to halt her basketball dreams. The young athlete had grown too weary, frustrated and exhausted with the game. She felt like basketball was no longer enjoyable.

The text pierced the hearts of the entire Mavs Academy staff, and they immediately recognized the need for change. The young girl had no idea that her cry for help would ultimately propel the Mavericks to take action, and it would become a pivotal moment in the history of the franchise.

Robinson remembered that Nared told the group: “This is a problem, and we need to try and help these girls, so what can we do?”

She instantly volunteered to help pioneer a new girls-inspired initiative created by the Mavs that would eventually become known as GEM. 

“We wanted to develop a safe, emotionally and physically, environment for young girls to be themselves,” said Robinson. “We want to ignite this hope and belief inside them where they fully understand their potential.”

According to the Women’s Sports Foundation, participation in activities like basketball positively impacts the health and well-being of female youth — but twice as many girls quit sports by the age of 14.

There are a few reasons for this, like social stigmas and the lack of positive role models to support and encourage young women.

With the support of the Mavs behind them, Robinson and the rest of the Mavs Academy hit the ground running in hopes of creating sustainable change and influence among girls between 9-14. 

Robinson said the pandemic helped foster the early days of the GEM program because the Mavericks virtually visited with many young girls to help identify and then target their specific needs.

“We started with a focus group with 30 female Mavs Ball kids,” Robinson explained. From there, the program blossomed and has gone on to host numerous camps, clinics and workshops. 

GEM is a cutting-edge program designed to target the future generation of girls between the pivotal ages of 9-14. The program aims to inspire and empower young females through physical activity as a backdrop to their continued development and success.

The program focuses on five main pillars: education, financial literacy, mental health, physical health and sports.

GEM hosts workshops and camps under each specific pillar throughout the year, and numerous other activities are in the works for young student-athletes. 

This March, to commemorate Women’s History Month, the Dallas Mavs and GEM will host various events throughout the month, including clinics and health workshops. 

Last night, ahead of the Mavericks game, GEM hosted a Women’s Empowerment Speaker Event with UT Southwestern.

Some of the speakers from the Mavs included Marshall, Tarsha LaCour (Chief People Officer) and SVP Erin Finegold White. Other representatives from UT Southwestern and TIAA also participated. 

Today’s International Women’s Day Celebration was moderated by another forerunner in the industry, DJ Ivy Awino.

After the panel discussion at this morning’s celebration, the high school girls participated in a “learning fair,” where they had the opportunity to visit booths to learn about physical and mental health, career opportunities and more. TIAA sponsored the event

Victor Cathey serves as the Executive Director of Athletics at International Leadership of Texas, and he brought many of his students to attend the Mavericks’ GEM event today. For the last 20 years, Coach Cathey has also partnered with the Dallas Mavericks to work at camps and clinics, and he said the GEM program is extraordinary and unique to the community. 

“I wish more people knew there were more resources at their fingertips, especially with the Dallas Mavericks,” Cathey said. “A lot of us drive by I-35 every day and don’t realize that the Mavericks are a resource. The organization is so much bigger than what they put on the basketball court.

“Yes, we’re all fans, and we love what Luka Doncic does, but the Mavericks are also a resource that wants to help people in many other ways. Yes, they have a great team, but they also reach out to kids. The Mavericks Basketball Academy does a great job with incorporating basketball skills, and the GEM program that we’re talking about today is exceptional and doing great things for our young women.”

Cathey said one thing he was appreciative about with today’s GEM event was the discussion on finances. 

“Many events tailored for young women skip over financial talks and financial literacy with girls,” Cathey said. “So I was impressed that one of the speakers discussed the topic. Today, the Mavericks have done a phenomenal job with the other speakers who talked about building wealth and financial literacy. These are important areas that we still have to catch up to when it comes to equality with women, and I thought that topic today was unique and important.” 

International Women’s Day is observed annually on March 8 and celebrates the global “social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women,” according to the International Women’s Day website. The day also calls for action to advance gender equality. 

The Mavericks were thrilled to celebrate this momentous day with future pioneers who are already trailblazing unique paths. 

They are young girls creating history now — and setting the pace for the next 50 years. 

“Many would say you represent our future, but you actually represent the present,” Marshall said. “You matter right now to us. You are doing big things right now with us.”


  • UT Southwestern Physical Health Workshop on Mar. 15 at Girls Inc.
  • UT Southwestern Physical Health Workshop with “Girls on the Run” on Mar. 23 at American Airlines Center


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