I just got back earlier this month from my first trip to Africa, and the whole trip was an unbelievable experience.
The trip was set up through the NBA and NBA Cares. Every year, we have meetings with people from NBA Cares about different opportunities in the community. I had been talking with them for a while about going over to Africa and getting involved.
We have all these things that we’re able to do as players, but a lot of times during the summertime, you’ll get caught up in trying to do other things with your time off. But this was something that I really wanted to do, especially for my dad.
He had never been to Africa, and always told me since I was younger that he wanted to go some time. So when this opportunity presented itself, I knew I had to take him with me. I sent him the e-mail when I got confirmation that we were going as kind of a surprise for his birthday. He was really excited about it and had a great time. Being able to share the experience with him is something I was really thrilled to do.
The places they took us and the things we got to see, it’s not something a lot of people from over here get to do. Most of the trip was set up through the NBA, but we went a little early to go on a safari in Mala Mala.
It was amazing to go out there and see the wildlife, the way they live and everything that goes on out there. We saw all kinds of different animals and it was a great experience. I hate saying this because it seems kind of cliché, but being out there in the wild, it makes you appreciate “The Lion King” that much more. The characters aren’t talking, but the animals — how they would move around and how everything is — it really is like that.
It was a three-day safari, and every morning we would get up before the sun, and go out on the safari for three hours. Then we would come back to the village we stayed in, and wouldn’t go back out until the sun was about to go down. It was really cool. We saw hyenas, leopards, lions and all sorts of other animals. The lions rule everything out there. We also saw a lion stalk and kill a water buffalo. It was wild.
The whole safari was just a cool experience — especially being there with my dad. I know how much he had always wanted to go.
RAISING THE GAME
After the safari, we went over to Johannesburg to work with Basketball Without Borders. They do this yearly clinic there, and gather all the top players in Africa from all the different countries throughout the continent. I would compare it to the ABCD camp they do in LA. There were several other NBA players out there as well. Serge Ibaka, Thabo Sefolosha, Kyrie Irving, Hasheem Thabeet, Al Horford and myself as instructors for the camp.
That was another cool thing about these kind of situations: you get to see these guys outside of basketball. I knew Al Horford, but I didn’t know many of the other guys. A lot of times we’re out there working and competing against each other, and you don’t know anything about them but their game. I got to see them as people, and spend some time with some players without the competitive tension. That was a really cool part of the trip.
Going in there, I didn’t know what to expect. There aren’t many NBA guards from Africa — except maybe Steve Nash. (He was born in South Africa, but grew up in Canada.) There are a lot of NBA bigs from out there, but I was working with mostly guards, so I didn’t know what to expect. We did a lot of basic drills with them: ball handling, defensive stuff, shooting, nothing out of the ordinary. The goal was to get their fundamentals where they need to be.
All the kids out there were extremely athletic. All of them were jumping all over the place, flying all over the court. That was impressive. For most of them, their skillset in the game hadn’t really caught up with their athleticism yet. By the end of the camp, the kids I worked with definitely showed me that they can play. I’d say there were several kids out there who have what it takes to make it to the college level, and pursue whatever they want to do with basketball. They’re good enough to compete with kids over here in the U.S. at their age level.
PUTTING IT IN PERSPECTIVE
It was great working with the kids and helping them to pursue their dreams, but my favorite part of the trip was when we went out in the community around Johannesburg to meet people and help out.
One day, we went to a SOS village where they had built these dorms to house kids who were abandoned. Being able to just hang out with those kids was a great experience. We didn’t do anything major; I played soccer with them a bit, they showed me some of their dorm rooms, but it was just the opportunity to talk to them that stuck out to me.
It really puts things in perspective. A lot of times, I think we take for granted how blessed we are to be in the U.S. and to have the way of life that we live. There are obviously rough parts everywhere, and there are rough parts here in the States, but when you see things like that, it’s different. I don’t think the roughest part of this country can compare to some of the things I saw out there. It made me think about how lucky everyone over here is, that we’re able to live the way we do, and it inspires me to try to do things to make a difference.
The ability to give back means the world to me. Luckily, I was blessed. I came from a two-parent, two-income household. I didn’t grow up in poverty. I came from just a normal household. My dad was a psychologist, and my mom was a counselor and teacher while I was growing up.
I’ve been around it enough now and seen things that make me understand how lucky I am. With the blessings I’ve received in my life, I feel it’s my duty to give back. That’s something I’ve always wanted to do. I’m in the process of starting a foundation out here and I’m trying to do things in the community here in Phoenix and around the world.
While working with Basketball Without Borders, I was able to network with someone who works for UNICEF. She’s going to be helping me out to get my foundation started, and I’m going to team with them to do some things to help people around the world. I’m excited to start giving back even more because I want to make an imprint in the community.
HEADING BACK TO MEMPHIS
Since I’ve been back in the States, I’ve just been trying to get everything fine-tuned for before we start training camp coming up here soon.
I’m headed out to Memphis this weekend, and I’m really excited about the season. I think it’s going to be a great opportunity for us. We had a very good team last year, with most of those guys coming back, and we added Mike Miller, so I think we have the chance to be a very good team once again. We’ll see what happens, but I think it will be a great season.