Mateen Cleaves aims to do right with his “Piece of Mine” Initiative.
With the negative aspects dominating the news coverage in Flint, MI , positive events are rarely mentioned.
On July 10, in an effort to help rehabilitate programs for city’s youth as well as community facilities, Mateen Cleaves kicked off a “Piece of Mine” Initiative filled with local celebrities to interact with the children. Cleaves brought in a star-studded roster including: Morris Peterson of the New Orleans Hornets, former Michigan State receiver Plaxico Burress, hip-hop rapper/producer Jon Conner, 2004 middleweight bronze medalist Andre Dirrell and former MSU ballers Kelvin Torbert and Dejuan Wiley. Wiley and Burress were introduced as “honorary Flintstones.”
[Check out more images from the event by clicking the link below.--Ed.]
Cleaves’ reasoning behind choosing these individuals was: “We all grew up in the same environment, in the ghetto, and we all have seen a lot of bad things in our lives—a lot of drugs, a lot of guns, a lot of gang violence. So we all got the same common goals.”
The event took place at Berston Fieldhouse, a very important landmark in the community since it opened in 1923. The recreation center produced athletes like Eddie Robinson and Cory Hightower.
In late June, a man was shot near the field house, which may have sparked the “Flintstones” to make an effort to try to clean up the streets. This was Cleaves’ first project since founding the Mateen Cleaves Community Outreach Foundation.
For Burress, to help his fellow Spartan was a no-brainer. During his speech he said, “Mo (Cleaves) called me two weeks ago and asked if I could be here. I didn’t even really know what the event was going to be, but I wanted to be here for him. I just said, ‘I’ll be there.’”
In the midst of all the positivity and love, I was able to catch up with Cleaves as well as the original “Flintstone,” Justus Thigpen, to talk a little bit of hoops before the kids were to receive their important message.
SLAM: With all of the things that you have accomplished, what are your specific plans for this year?
Mateen Cleaves: My thing is right now, I’m just staying in shape. I’m 31 now and and we’re trying to see what free agents are signing with what teams. I’m gonna pick and choose what teams I might try out for and if a good opportunity comes from overseas than I’m gonna take that as well. So my job right now is to stay in shape and enjoy life and we’ll see what happens.
SLAM: With all of the violence in Flint, what are you looking to accomplish out here today?
MC: It seems like somebody is leaving us everyday! And it’s kids that’s killing kids, and that’s the bad thing. We can’t change the world and save the world in one day but this a start.
What we wanna come out here and do is just really interact with the kids. We give basketball camps, we show kids how to play ball all the time but man we wanna talk to the kids, interact with the kids, give the kids a chance to ask questions about what it took for us to make it to the NBA and stuff like that. We got a lot of guys coming out here like Mo Pete and myself. Plaxico Burress flying in from Miami to come talk to some of the kids.
The thing that stands out to me is some of the old timers coming out. You got my dad and guys like Justus Thigpen and these guys are coming back and those were the guys that I looked up to and the stories that I heard about. So for them being able to come back means so much to me.
SLAM: Is there anything else you would like to tell the people or add about the city of Flint?
MC: We gotta get out and get to work! Everybody wanna sit around and talk about how we gotta do our city. We can’t depend on nobody to do our city; we gotta depend on ourselves, and I’m excited and motivated about changing this city around. I’m encouraging everybody else to stop talking about it and do something about it! So that’s all we’re about, and I’m excited. I’m a true Flintstone man so I’m just ready to get to work in this community.
Flint Legend, Justus Thigpen, was the first player from Flint to make the NBA (Detroit Pistons, 1969), and he had some great stories about his magical ride.
SLAM: Talk about your experiences on your journey to the NBA?
Justus Thigpen: It started a long time ago, I tell you that. I guess it started from the playgrounds, that’s where you honed all your skills because as far as high school, I didn’t play but one year of high school ball—that was my senior year at Flint Northern.
Then it went on, progressed and I had a successful college life and after college I had a chance to travel the world, play ball over in France and then went on to the American Basketball Association and played there with the Pittsburgh Pipers. Some of the old timers might remember a guy named Connie Hawkins. He was there so I got a chance to deal with the Hawk.
From there we had a CBA league and I did well (Thigpen averaged 41 ppg) playing with guys like George “Iceman” Gervin. He was in there and some of the Russell boys out of Pontiac. Then from there I went to the Detroit Pistons with the likes of Dave Bing and Bob Lanier. I was in the League with Walt Frazier and Earl Monroe and you learn from these guys. So basketball has been good to me.
SLAM: What do you think separated Cleaves and Peterson from all of the others who thought they were going to the League out of Flint?
JT: Dedication! You see these guys with dedication and hard work. Mateen Cleaves an Morris Peterson, Charlie Bell, all the guys from Flint that I had an opportunity to see and be a part of… you see you cant get there without it. No matter what it is, if you’re gonna be a janitor, be the best janitor and they were the ballplayers and it reflects on what they’re doing now.
SLAM: Out of all of the talent that you’ve played against like Connie Hawkins and Iceman, who was your toughest player you ran up against?
JT: Well it’s a bunch of them [laughs]. There was a guy named Fred Carter that played at Philadelphia. Now Fred Carter was real fast and strong. Fred Carter and Earl Monroe. But with Earl Monroe, when you get to that level, these guys were not out there trying to hurt a rookie, they were out there to help him. So Earl Monroe was instrumental, but I guess the hardest guy to check would’ve been Austin Carr. He went to Notre Dame, he was 6-5, and he was a shooter and a scorer. He was hard to check. But then he told me I was hard to check! [Laughs.]