Trevor Ariza’s presence is still felt in L.A.
by Nima Zarrabi
Watts—Trevor Ariza’s return to L.A. starts here. It’s early Saturday morning and we’re at the headquarters of the Watts Labor Community Action Committee, known by most around here as the WLCAC. A community organization founded by Ted Watkins in the 60s, the WLCAC is a cultural center with a mission to improve the quality of life for residents in Watts and nearby communities.
Last night in Sacramento, the Rockets lost to the Kings 109-100, despite 28 points, 6 rebounds and 5 steals from Ariza. The team arrived in L.A. at about 1 a.m. The Rockets play the Lakers on Sunday night, but before his highly anticipated return to Staples Center, Ariza is here in Watts making an appearance for his foundation. The Trevor Ariza Foundation is dedicated to the advocacy of asthma, a health obstacle he has overcome during his journey to the NBA.
Today, Ariza’s foundation is spreading some holiday love, passing out 200 turkeys with all the trimmings for local families in need. Watkins’ organization is now run by his son Timothy, who serves as the President and CEO. “It’s interesting that Trevor is here,” Watkins says. “Even though this is no longer his town per say as an athlete, he came down to Watts to do something for people who really need some help this Thanksgiving. Poverty goes on day in and day out here, so it doesn’t matter about economic crisis in the rest of the world. There is an economic crisis everyday in places like Watts. It’s an outstanding thing this young man is doing. He feels the need to do something that shares what he’s gaining from his career.”
With some incredible art looming behind us, I had an opportunity to speak with Trevor while he passed out boxes of food. His family members were helping out around us and his son Tajh was having a blast running around. While his face still exudes a quiet innocence and shy smile, it’s quite clear that Trevor’s on the brink of stardom.
SLAM: You had a nice game last night.
Trevor Ariza: We couldn’t get a win though. It’s tough [shakes his head].
SLAM: Tell us about what you’re doing here today.
TA: Today we’re giving out turkeys and meals for thanksgiving. I think it’s important to give back to the city that I grew up in. It’s the people in this community that I learned so much from. It made me who I am today.
SLAM: Why did you choose this part of town?
TA: This is the city we chose this year. Next year it will be another part of Los Angeles county. This felt like a good place to start.
SLAM: Even though you have moved on to Houston, do you plan on being active in the L.A. community?
TA: Definitely. I’m from here. But I plan on doing things in the Houston community too. I’m just trying to do as much as I can. Everybody that’s blessed me, I just want to reach out and bless them back.
SLAM: What has it been like interacting with some of the families today?
TA: Seeing the smiles on their faces and seeing how appreciative and thankful they are is all I need. It’s cool.
SLAM: Let’s talk about your next couple days in town. I know you’re getting your championship ring tomorrow night. Have you thought much about what that experience is going to be like?
TA: I’ve tried not to. I know if I think about it too much it will be all that I think about and I won’t have time to focus on the game. I’m still trying to win. Even though I’m getting my ring and it will be a really good thing, I’m still trying to win.
SLAM: It seems like you’re comfortable in Houston. You’re playing really well and blossoming into the player a lot of people thought you would be.
TA: [Smiles] I don’t know if people thought I was going to become what I’m becoming. I think people thought I would be…
SLAM: Really? Is that the feeling you got?
TA: Yeah. But it actually helps me. I know there is so much I have to learn and that I can grow. I’m excited about growing. I love working in the summer time and getting better.
SLAM: I guess I’m coming from the point of view of being an L.A. resident and seeing you play at Westchester High and then UCLA. You were always so talented and many of us thought it would be a matter of time before you would be in the right position. It felt like that place was last year in L.A. Now it seems like you’ve taken it to another level. Do you feel like you have more opportunity to show that now?
TA: I think that’s what it’s about: opportunity. The two teams I was with before I don’t think I got to show what I could do. I got to L.A. and they let me play. Being in Houston now, they’re letting me play, play. I’m having a great time. I’m appreciative of my time in L.A and the opportunity to win a championship. I became great friends with my old teammates. Now it’s time for me to do my own thing.
SLAM: You guys have already faced the Lakers once this year. What was that experience like?
TA: It was a little weird but a lot of fun. Playing against those guys was a great experience and I can’t wait to play them on Sunday.
SLAM: You and Ron Artest got a double technical early in that game. Was that just competition?
TA: I think so. I don’t think it was anything else. It was all fun. I like him. He’s a great dude.
SLAM: A lot of the fans here really love you and appreciate what you did for the team. Do you still feel that deep connection with Lakers fans?
TA: I definitely do. How could I not? I grew up being a Laker fan just like them.
SLAM: A lot has been said about you leaving town, but now it seems like you have the opportunity to make the All-Star team and blossom on another level. Is that exciting for you?
TA: It’s very exciting. Hopefully one day I can become an all-star.
SLAM: Do you see yourself as someone who could become an elite player in this league? Do you think you have that type of ability?
TA: I’m trying. I’m trying. I think it will happen. I have the confidence in myself to believe that I can be. But I’m still a work in progress. I still have a lot to learn.