by Yaron Weitzman / @YaronWeitzman
It’s a sunny Thursday afternoon on Hollis avenue in Queens, NY. NBA veteran Royal Ivey is holding a microphone and standing in front of nearly 100 pairs of attentive eyes, transfixed on him as if he’s about to reveal the secret of life. For the first time all afternoon, there are no balls bouncing in Hollis’ I.S. 192 Playground next to Benjamin N. Cardozo High School, Ivey’s alma-matter. When Ivey takes the mic, every kid sits in silence, hanging on every word that comes out of the Oklahoma City guard’s mouth.
Much of the message that the kids hear at this moment from Ivey, and throughout the afternoon from all the coaches at the fourth annual Royal Skills Clinic, a three-day clinic offered free of charge to boys and girls ages 8-13, is a familiar one. Phrases like “listen,” “hard work” and “intensity” are constantly heard. But what makes this clinic—and Ivey himself—unique is the fact that these words are yelled out with an intention that has almost nothing to do with developing the future NBA players.
“It’s about more than basketball,” says Ivey. “It’s about life skills, too. It’s about teaching the kids that there are other things besides basketball that they can succeed in.”
This is what Ivey and his father, Rod, had in mind when they decided to create the Royal Skills Clinic four years ago. They wanted to teach kids. Not exploit them. In fact, spend enough time around the Iveys, and you come to realize that wanting to teach seems to be the motive for many of the family’s actions.
“I come from a lineage of school teachers,” says Ivey, whose mother and grandmother were both teachers, and who, in the event of a prolonged NBA lockout, is planning on going back to the University of Texas as an undergraduate assistant for men’s basketball coach Rick Barnes in order to complete the final six hours of his degree in elementary education. “Teaching is in my blood.”
Hearing this, you realize that The Royal Skills Clinic is just Ivey doing what Iveys do. In many ways, it appears to be his first stride toward joining the family business. A major part of the clinic is the workshop that his mother, Jennifer, who like Rod Ivey, is an artist, runs. The workshop’s focus, aside from this year’s new addition of nutrition lectures, is to get the kids to realize that there are other careers available to them besides basketball. That there are ways to make good money within the sport of basketball that don’t involve lacing up sneakers, and don’t posses the impossible odds involved with trying to make the NBA.
“Were just giving them the truth,” says Rod. “And I don’t think they ever hear that.” When asked if he agrees with his father’s assessment—that kids today aren’t hearing the whole story when it comes to chasing the NBA dream, Royal emphatically answers, in a tone that approaches anger, that he knows that they don’t.
This is not to say that there’s no focus or devotion to basketball within the three-day clinic. Aside from the access to Royal and Ted Guestas—the legendary former New York City high school coach who was brought in through clinic-sponsor Game Over to run the basketball portion of the camp—campers also get to meet other coaches and players who they most likely would never have had access to otherwise. (On this Thursday the kids were treated to guest lectures from Golden State Warriors second-round pick and Hofstra University graduate Charles Jenkins, who was a counselor at The Royal Skills Clinic two years ago, as well as Ivey’s former high school coach at Cardozo HS, Ron Naclerio.) But in typical Ivey fashion, even the focus of the basketball part of the clinic is to teach. To the dismay of the many of the kids, there are no games played. Instead, campers are divided up and sent to different stations to work on basic basketball skills.
“All these kids watch television, and they to play like the superstars in the League, but they don’t really know how to play the game,” says Ivey. “They don’t really know the fundamentals. My objective is to teach the kids the fundamentals. The little things like how to dribble with both hands, and take a left-handed layup.”
Listening to Ivey speak like this, and sensing his frustration as he laments about young players today not possessing “the fundamentals of the game,” and you hear the voice of the coach that Ivey hopes to one day become. (Ivey says that his post-retirement plans include coaching and starting his own charter school. Obviously.) In fact, Gustus says that he’s been trying to get Ivey into “the coaching thing” for the past few years. As he, along with Rod point out, the fact that Ivey has been able to stay in the NBA for eight seasons, despite averaging just 12.7 minutes per game in his career (a number which has been decreasing each of the past five seasons) says something about the kind of person Ivey is, and the kind of basketball mind that he has. That Ivey’s Wikipedia page mistakenly has a picture of teammate Kevin Durant under the name “Royal Ivey” is just further proof of Ivey’s anonymity, and further testimony toward Gusuts’ and Rod’s point: That while the man standing in front of all those kids in Hollis, Queens is an NBA player by trade, like the rest of his family, he’s a teacher at heart.
“What Royal is doing here, it really shows a genuine love for helping,” says Gustas. “You don’t see cameras or sponsors all over the place. This is strictly Royal, and what Royal does.”