By Ben Osborne
Lang and I were up early to head over to the Convention Center to check out an adidas/PeacePlayers event which featured participation from adidas endorsees Chauncey Billups, Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett, Dwight Howard and Antawn Jamison, as well as our man Aggrey Sam, SLAM senior writer and Peace Players International employee.
adidas made the players “available” for a few minutes before they took the court, but most of the guys got mobbed. I went and sat with Jamison for a couple, though, and he was cool. Before I get to the interview, here’s adidas’ press release about the event since they can explain it a little better than I can:
ADIDAS, PEACEPLAYERS HOST “BASKETBALL IS A BROTHERHOOD” EVENT TO BRING NEW ORLEANS YOUTH AND NBA ALL-STARS SIDE-BY-SIDE
adidas and PeacePlayers International (PPI) have teamed up to bring Basketball is a Brotherhood to life to celebrate what everyone can bring to the game by putting young players side by side with the world’s best athletes. Two dozen kids from the adidas Peace Players New Orleans Life-skills/Athletic Program will descend on to the adidas court within the NBA All-Star Jam Session to meet Kevin Garnett, Tim Duncan, Dwight Howard, Chauncey Billups and Antawn Jamison. The All-Stars will provide advice and guidance for both on and off court topics as they get to know the young ball players on a personal level while playing the game they all love.
In June 2007, adidas committed to work with PeacePlayers to launch the first PPI United States operation in New Orleans, La. The partnership came about after both companies saw a glaring need for sporting opportunities and life-skills development post Katrina.
The event includes pick-up games with the All-Stars coaching local youth teams and a question + answer session with the kids asking the All-Stars questions.
Anyway, before it really got started I asked Antawn (quietly averaging 22-10 in what is arguably the best season of his 10-year career) what it meant to him:
SLAM:What do you know about this event and PeacePlayers International?
AJ: This is all about showing what brotherhood is really about. Community, dedication, taking four or five guys from different walks of life having a common goal, basketball. Getting a chance to tell these kids what it’s all about.
SLAM: Pretty cool for these kids to have the chance to meet you guys and play with you all, huh?
AJ: Oh, definitely. If I was a kid and had the opportunity to be this close to NBA All-Stars and be able to converse with them, that would be a big thing for me. So hopefully they enjoy this opportunity.
SLAM: Well, do you have any memories of something like this? Did you ever meet or interact with any NBA players before you got to North Carolina?
AJ: Yes. My first interaction with an NBA player was with Larry Johnson in Charlotte when he was with the Hornets. The NBA was doing a Stay in School event there with him and I got to see him and shake his hand and get his autograph, and I remember that to this day. Like I said, experiences like that do make a difference. Just talking to a kid for a little while, saying “what’s up young fella?” or signing autographs , can impact kids. Sometimes we as athletes forget that. Being at a weekend like this, you want to do as much as you can. I caught some of the celebrity game, went out a little, but really the most important thing is these events with the kids.
SLAM: Real quick with an actual basketball question. I know this is not how you thought the season would go, with Gilbert out and now Caron for awhile, too. I mean, it’s been your team recently. Still, you guys are hanging around. How do you feel about how things are going for the Wizards?
AJ: We still got a long way to go. The injuries have been rough. With just Gilbert out, we still have two all-star players in myself and Caron to pick up the slack. But now it’s time for help to arrive. We’re ready for Gilbert to come back! I’d love them both healthy so I can relax a bit. And the thing is, it’s really most important that everyone be healthy for the Playoff push, and that’s going to happen.
SLAM: Yeah? What is the latest on those guys?
AJ: Caron will be back in a week or so, and Gilbert is aiming for early in the month. It’ll be fun when they’re back.