Experience of a Lifetime

by February 20, 2008

By Ben Osborne

Early Saturday morning, a group of about three-dozen kids from New Orleans gathered with the expectation that they were about to do something special, but no idea what that special something would be. They began doing drills with families, friends, and other fans watching, as most, if not all, had done in the past. The difference was the observers had cameras, tape recorders and notebooks, and instead of a rec-league or school team uniform, they were all rocking new adidas gear from head to toe. Soon, they were brought together in a circle at midcourt and finally told what that something special would be: Kevin Garnett, Tim Duncan, Dwight Howard, Chauncey Billups and Antawn Jamison, aka the adidas Brotherhood crew I briefly discussed on Saturday (minus Gilbert Arenas and Tracy McGrady; let’s call Jamison an adidas Cousin) were gonna hoop with them.

The pros sat down with the kids, some of whom were allowed to ask the players questions in a brief Q&A session before a series of three games, with an NBA player on a team with four kids (and subs, due to the amount). While the mini-games only lasted about five minutes apiece, the experience was priceless for the diverse group, who hailed from all over the city and came from a variety of socio-economic backgrounds. Playing with the NBA guys had to be exciting, but it was the interaction with the pros, like signing autographs and busting on each other, that really made each kid’s day.

“It felt real good just to be around the players, just to talk to them,” said Wanto Joseph, a junior at O.P. Walker High School on New Orleans’ West Bank. “I talked to KG the most. He was just telling me that when anybody tells you can’t do something in life, if you work hard at it and have confidence in yourself, you can do it.”

“Playing on Chauncey Billups’ team–it was a dream come true,” continued Joseph, who came to the N.O. from Haiti at age 7 and is a starting guard on one of the city’s top teams, as well as a 4.0 student. “That’s one of my favorite players.”

The kids were brought to the event by PeacePlayers International, the organization SLAM Senior Writer Aggrey Sam works for in New Orleans. Aggrey just moved to the N.O. about a month ago and along with the rest of the organization, is working hard to develop a positive environment where kids can work on their game, get life-skills lessons in areas like literacy, career development and conflict resolution and just have an accessible place to play, something sorely lacking in New Orleans right now. This was the program’s launch event, but Big Easy residents should be on the lookout for opportunities in their hood, such as camps, clinics, leagues, tournaments and afterschool and weekend activities, all in conjunction with adidas. Shout out to SLAM homie Kristen Wise the three stripes for hooking everything up.