Olympic Surprise


Photos by LaVan Anderson, Everyday LaVan Photography

by Abe Schwadron@abe_squad

On Saturday afternoon, an unsuspecting group of young basketball players got the surprise of their lives, when between Team USA practice and media commitments, Olympians LeBron James and Chris Paul stopped by the Butler-Wyatt Boys & Girls Club in Washington, D.C. as part of Powerade’s “Power Through” campaign.

Told they would be extras in a grassroots Powerade commercial, a dozen kids ages 13-16 from District-based AAU program “Metroball DC” trickled into the local gym starting around 1:30 p.m.

By 2 p.m., the youngsters were decked out in brand new sleeveless white jerseys, running pickup games at each end of the court. And 20 minutes later, Dee Bamiduro, MC for the event, gathered the group at midcourt to talk about Powerade’s message—about powering through whatever adversity is in the way of achieving athletic goals, whether physical, mental or environmental. Before he was done, Bamiduro called in reinforcements.

“Please help us welcome…LeBron James and Chris Paul!”

As LBJ and CP3 walked ducked in through a side door, some faces flashed ear-to-ear smiles. Others were paralyzed with disbelief. The pros exchanged a few fist-bumps before sitting down for an intimate Q & A session with the lucky young ballers.

First, each of the athletes described how they’ve had to “Power Through” in their careers. For Paul, “Overcoming my size,” and for Bron, “People doubting me.” The kids chimed in, too, citing everything from football two-a-days to broken ribs and fractured fingers suffered on the blacktop.

“I try to tell the kids to believe in themselves,” Paul told SLAMonline afterwards. “A lot of times, especially at a young age, everybody is telling you what you can’t do. But it’s more about what you can do.”

If confidence was an issue for this group, it didn’t show, because when the floor opened up for questions, there was no holding back. One brave teen asked Paul sharply, “Why you ain’t go to the Lakers?” Now an All-Star point guard for L.A.’s other pro team, CP laughed before answering plainly, “I’m happy where I am.”

Before long, James and Paul rolled out the basketballs, guiding the wide-eyed youth through drills and layup lines. Eventually, LeBron couldn’t hold back his shot-swatting instincts—after sending a pair of frail attempts back toward halfcourt, he screamed, “I’m Serge Ibaka down here!”

Even on a tight Team USA schedule, the Olympic duo thought it important to make a lasting impression on a group of kids who have had to power through a lack of funding from the local Parks and Recreation department.

“It’s great. The kids had no idea we were coming. To see the smiles on their faces, it’s unbelievable,” said Paul. “To have two guys from the Olympic team and obviously a World Champion from this year, with LeBron coming through here, it’s something these kids will never forget.”

Terrance Judge, president of the Metropolitan Basketball League and Metroball DC, the AAU team that calls Butler-Wyatt home, called it “just what these kids need.” Judge continued: “It’s great inspiration for them. These kids have seen them on TV, where they’re bigger than life. But when they see them in person, it becomes a reality.”

His son Tariq—who calls LeBron James his favorite NBA player—described the day in a way only a giddy kid could: “really awesome.”

“I was so surprised,” said Tariq. “I didn’t even know he was going to be here. My dad told me to go in the gym and I was like, ‘Why?’ Then I saw LeBron James walk through the door and I was like, ‘Whoa! What is he doing here?’”

Tariq and his teammates had Powerade—official sports drink of the 2012 Olympic Games in London—to thank for the special experience.