It’s hard to miss Rawlston Charles as he swaggers into Madison Square Garden dressed impeccably in vibrant colors, shoes with sheen and a statement hat with feather accent. While this dress code isn’t often observed at a New York Liberty match-up, Rawlston is there, every game, dutifully cheering on his daughter, Liberty center Tina Charles, in a suit so crisp even sitting in his usual courtside seat for a two-hour game couldn’t wrinkle it.
As soon as you set eyes on the tall-in-stature fellow you recognize a rhythmic cool about his presence. This is fitting seeing as Rawlston left Trinidad and Tobago at the age of 17 to become a successful Reggae and Calypso recording producer and eventually the owner of Charlie’s Records studio on Fulton Street in Brooklyn.
“Music is the fruit of love. When you do music you don’t see it. You feel music. It’s from the heart. I live for music, for greatness,” mused Mr. Charles.
Producers are always scoping for talent, and Mr. Charles was no different. When Rawlston first laid eyes on his baby girl, he didn’t predict a selfless and giving basketball player… rather, he saw a future pianist.
“I looked at her fingers. Because I’m in music I thought she might have become a pianist; her fingers were so long. I didn’t assume basketball because women’s basketball was not something people talked about at the time. However, when she was three months old her mom bought her a basketball net. She couldn’t even walk but she would get on her hands and knees and crawl to the basket and throw the ball up. I noticed something like nine times out of 10, that ball would go in,” he said.
Tina recalled her dad recognizing and supporting her interest in basketball. “He does music but he’s always loved the game of basketball. The Knicks were his team. I remember him throwing me the ball on my Fisher Price mini-hoop and telling me to be like Patrick Ewing. My parents didn’t live together and I stayed with my mom, but he was always there. At games then and at games now.”
Tina Charles has achieved impressive levels of greatness on the court as a two-time collegiate national champion, a two-time WNBA All-Star, an Olympic Gold medalist and the 2012 WNBA MVP. But Tina will be the first to explain that her “music,” the place where her heart beats hardest, is off of the court doing great works of philanthropy.
Charity is the name of the tune Tina has danced to since she was a girl. The notes of harmony she hopes to enable in other people’s lives were taught to her by her father, often, right in his recording studio.
Tina reminisced to her days as a little girl: “There wasn’t a time at Charlie’s Records where there wasn’t a crowd of five to 15 people just hanging out. People are drawn to my dad’s personality. He was always giving. People would come in and ask for things and he would give it to them, whether it was a CD, a record, financially help them, or even food. As much as people loved him, when he was with me he always made it about me, never himself. That’s where I get that thoughtfulness from…from him.”
The WNBA recently awarded Tina Charles with the WNBA Cares Community Assist Award presented by State Farm for the month of May. The award recognizes her outstanding efforts in the community and her ongoing charitable work. While Liberty fans eagerly anticipated Charles’ debut in New York’s black and seafoam-green uniforms, Tina immediately got to work with the kids of the city.
“I learned the meaning of giving back and helping those in my community at a young age. My dad always had advice for me, he told me, ‘Wherever your treasure is, your heart is.’ I’ve always understood that success is measured by your impact on other people, because that is the example my father showed me,” she explained.
After winning the FIBA Euro Cup Championship with Russian powerhouse, Dynamo Moscow, Tina flew from Russia into New York and then motored directly from the airport to her alma mater, Christ The King High School, in Queens. Charles delivered a message about the importance of school and goal setting to an audience of 175 student-athletes who aggregated to welcome the native New Yorker back to the Big Apple. Charles also teamed up with Fidelis Care to buy hundreds of complimentary tickets to Liberty games to be given out to local community organizations.
Charles is not one to bask in the limelight and often will push attention away from herself; however, her most recent act of philanthropy has grabbed national headlines. Charles recently pledged half of her 2014 WNBA salary as a donation to her Hopey’s Heart Foundation which makes a mission of providing health education, CPR training and lifesaving automatic external defibrillators (AEDs) in schools, communities and recreation centers. The WNBA will also make a donation of $7,500 to the foundation, as part of her award.
Of Rawlston’s six children Tina is the youngest. While work at his Brooklyn studio may have spoken directly to his heart, his duties as a father held priority. “People speak about dead-beat fathers a lot. I believe if you put them in the world it’s your responsibility to see them grow up the right way. I did what I had to do. Even if she didn’t grow up with me, I was in the house she grew up in. When Tina was born I said to myself, I’m not going to let this one get away.”
Rawlston kept to his personal promise of duty to Tina and because of that, his music will play on through the acts of his daughter. While his song certainly harmonizes with each basket she scores, it’s when Tina gives of herself to others that Rawlston’s melody rises to its strongest crescendo.
Ros Gold-Onwude works as an analyst and reporter for MSG Networks covering the New York Liberty, for ESPN and Pac-12 Networks breaking down NCAA basketball, and for the NBA D-League covering the Santa Cruz Warriors.