Houston Rockets forward Trevor Ariza hosted his 2nd Annual Celebrity Basketball Game at Taft HS in Woodland Hills, CA, this past Saturday. The game, in conjunction with his organization, Ariza Elevated Game Awards (AEGA), honors male and female high school student-athletes in eight sports categories within inner cities of Los Angeles communities that have excelled in academics and athletics while overcoming adversity through an awards ceremony that took place on July 10.
SLAM caught up with Ariza after the game to talk about his organization, childhood role models, free agency and much more. Check out the full interview below.
SLAM: What’s the feeling to know AEGA benefits boys and girls in the community as they prepare for the world as young adults?
Trevor Ariza: I think it’s a beautiful thing. Any time someone gives their time, their effort and energy for our youth, it’s very unbelievable. All I can do is be grateful that somebody else is benefiting from this.
SLAM: Why do you feel it’s important for athletes and celebrities to really engage and give back?
TA: Because they’re the people with the voice. Usually people listen to what they have to say a lot of the time and they’re a lot of people’s role models, so I think it’s important that they do what they’re supposed to.
SLAM: Was there an athlete or role model that had a positive impact on you when you were growing up?
TA: Penny Hardaway. I remember Penny being my favorite player at that point in time. I got a chance to meet him, talk to him and hangout with him and I wanted to be like that. I wanted to have the things that he had, so he definitely gave me a lot of motivation to succeed.
SLAM: From a basketball fan’s perspective, did you really think Cleveland would come back from a 3-1 deficit in the NBA Finals?
TA: No, we didn’t think that. But any time you have LeBron [James] on your team, you can never count them out. You can never count out any team LeBron is on. Ever.
SLAM: How crazy has this free agency been?
TA: I think it’s been a good thing to see. I think it shows that our game has grown a lot and shows that people around the world are watching our game and are tuning in.
TA: Dwyane Wade to the Bulls. He’s been in Miami for 13 years. To see him change teams was kind of like a shock to me.
SLAM: A lot of people voiced their opinion—especially Charles Barkley—on KD deciding to join the team that eliminated him in the Playoffs. What were your thoughts on that?
TA: He was a free agent and had the option to do whatever he wanted to do. He chose to move on from an organization that he’s done so much for, so I think it’s only right that he has his free choice to do whatever he wants.
SLAM: If you were in that position, would you be able to do something like that or would you rather beat the team that eliminated you the following season rather than joining them?
TA: I don’t think you can look at it that way. From my perspective, what is loyalty at the end of the day? He’s a loyal person regardless. Just because he wanted to move on that doesn’t make him a disloyal person.
SLAM: Speaking of free agency, your former teammate Dwight Howard is now a member of the Atlanta Hawks. Did you already have a feeling this move was going to happen based on reports of Howard not being able to co-exist with James Harden and him being disengaged during the season?
TA: Us as players, at some point in time, everybody’s going to be upset at something. That’s just natural like you at your job. Everybody at their job is going to have something that irritates them, but that doesn’t mean that they’re not locked in towards their goal. Everybody gets frustrated with things. Him wanting to move on…that’s his choice. He had his choice as well and he was a free agent. He’s in a place where he wants to be so all you can do is congratulate him. You can’t be mad at him because it’s not personal, it’s just business.
SLAM: You’re entering your 13th year in the League. How are you approaching things now in terms so you’re still able to continue to play at the highest level?
TA: Just continue to keep myself in shape, continue to work harder and just try to get better every year.