Sometimes, basketball is more than just a game. For some, it’s an outlet. For the most fortunate, it’s a livelihood.
For professional athletes and Chicago natives Will Bynum and Nazr Mohammed, basketball has become an opportunity and platform to give back to their community.
At a modest 6 feet, Will Bynum looks more running back than NBA guard. Now entering his 7th year in the league with the Detroit Pistons, Bynum overcame much more than his size to arrive where he is at today. As a product of the grueling and gang-infested west side of Chicago, Bynum describes his inner city childhood as an experience he “wouldn’t trade for anything, but at the same time wouldn’t wish on any kid either.”
This polarizing perspective acknowledges a difficult upbringing that created a mental and physical toughness Bynum has channeled into a productive basketball career. Undrafted out of Georgia Tech, Bynum currently holds the Pistons’ franchise record for most points by a player in a quarter. In 2010, he became the first Piston since his childhood idol and fellow Chicagoan Isiah Thomas to dish out at least 20 assists in a game. When asked if he has any reservations about his team’s crowded backcourt this upcoming season, Bynum expressed his confidence with a focus on the team while still relishing the competition. “It’s going to be hard for somebody to physically outplay me, (but) it’s not me battling another person. It’s who is going to produce out there on the court… It’s about developing that chemistry” said the Pistons’ back-up point guard.
This perseverance and attitude are just some of the principles Bynum is trying instill in today’s youth through his annual summer basketball camp. In its third year, the event hosted at Chicago State University last week allowed the area’s elite talent from 7th through 12th grade to showcase their abilities on the court and learn on the sidelines – but the education extended far beyond the game. In addition to training and drills, nearly 60 campers attended breakout sessions focused on leadership, mentoring and a healthy lifestyle. The comprehensive and exclusive 3-day program was a deliberate effort by Bynum to better the lives of camp participants and their communities. Bynum admitted the motivation behind the camp was to create a unique outlet and opportunity for underprivileged adolescents that he never had himself growing up in Chicago.
The camp culminated in all-star games that featured select players not only recognized for their basketball skills, but also for their academic and humanitarian achievements. Immediately following the players’ display of sharp shooting, lightning-quick crossovers, and tremendous athleticism, the camp concluded with Illinois Governor Patt Quinn taking center court to sign state legislation implementing a new anti-violence task force. Bynum also required campers to sign the Norm Van Lier non-violence pledge, which documented an individual’s promise to abstain from violent acts in Chicago.
A little over 48 hours later and approximately 15 miles north, Chicago Bulls center Nazr Mohammed hosted his own philanthropic event at Pazzo’s, an upscale Italian restaurant located in downtown Chicago. The 2nd annual Nazr Mohammed Foundation fundraiser aimed to benefit Chicago-area students, teachers, and learning institutions through the financial support of educational initiatives. While the aesthetic of the venue and the demographic of its guests presented a stark contrast to a youth basketball camp, the objective and message remained the same. Mohammed’s foundation is dedicated to serving and improving the community.
The fundraising gala, emceed by Bulls’ radio voice Chuck Swirsky, featured a silent auction and raffles of highly coveted prizes ranging from autographed sports memorabilia to gift packages to artwork. Those in attendance enjoyed hors d’oeuvres and an open bar to the backdrop of live entertainment. The six hour party also witnessed appearances by current and former NBA stars, Rajon Rondo, Ben Gordon, and Antoine Walker.
Proceeds from the event helped subsidize a number of local organizations, including Mohammed’s alma mater Kenwood Academy High School and “The Village Project” – a program concentrated on mentoring adolescents to become positive role models amongst their peers. The 15 year NBA veteran and southside product also spent the evening selecting three grassroots organizations that would receive donations from his foundation. The beneficiaries included CircEsteem, Mercy Home for Boys & Girls, and Sue Duncan’s Children Center. All organizations are committed to creating opportunities in academics, athletics, art, and/or religion to foster the growth of children in their communities.
These acts of kindness and charity may surprise some Bulls fans who revere Mohammed most for his infamous shove of LeBron James during last season’s playoffs. However, the emotional outburst was uncharacteristic and practically ironic for someone that ESPN Chicago’s Nick Friedell described at the event as “one of the nicest and most genuine guys in the league.” Despite the infraction, it’s evident from his foundation and fundraiser that Mohammed strives to be remembered for his efforts off the court as much as on it. While the former NBA and NCAA champion looks to help bring a title to his hometown in a supporting role for the Bulls this season, Mohammed has already brought hope to the city through the support of educational programs.
Will Bynum and Nazr Mohammed have never been NBA teammates, yet still play for the same team – the community. These Chicago natives have managed to each use their resources and standing in the community to preserve and inspire the city’s future. Their work and dedication is a welcomed initiative for a city ravaged by crime and violence. These charitable endeavors may not receive front page headlines like an NBA title, but with more professional athletes like Will Bynum and Nazr Mohammed, basketball becomes more than a game and leaves a positive impact well after the final buzzer.
With not much else to talk about, we breakdown all 82 games on the Bulls' upcoming schedule... not really, but we do identify some of the season's anticipated high and low lights. We also discuss more free agency acquisitions by Eastern conference foes, and Mitch puts his attorney hat on to defend Michael Beasley.
TIBS EDIT: To celebrate 50 episodes of The Bulls Show (congrats Mitch & Nillz), here's a 2.5 hour video of all the points in all of Michael Jordan's 50 point games. Enjoy!
Yesterday I had the privilege of watching Chicago's top basketball recruits scrimmage at NBA player Will Bynum's Annual Basketball Camp and what I witnessed was a whole lot of skill, fun, and dedication to the game. The camp, running from yesterday until Wednesday, is held in the southside at Chicago State University and includes the top youth recruits from grades 8-11.
As you may or may not know, Will Bynum currently plays for the Detroit Pistons, but by hosting these camps has dedicated his life to basketball in a way that is unique from other players. Not only do these kids do drills and participate in scrimmages, but also there are sessions throughout the day that focus on a range of topics including nonviolence, nutrition, anti-bullying, public speaking, etc. Students attending the event have often already begun to be scouted by colleges so Bynum's perspective truly benefits these individuals who also want to dedicate their lives to the game.
While the camp continues today, tomorrow will be extremely exciting as the signing of an anti-violence bill for the City of Chicago will take place at noon in CSU's Jones Convocation Center. Rumor has it that there will be some special guests in attendance as well so we're really looking forward to that!
[All of the campers getting a pep talk before they break for dinner]
[Tip off at the beginning of one of many scrimmages yesterday]
From summer league (over?) reactions to 13th man speculation, we somehow find a way to extensively discuss a Bulls off-season mostly full of inactivity. We also look into other news and moves around the league, including Team USA mini-camp and how the East is shaping up.
If this isn’t a real-life parallel to the beloved 2000 classic, I don’t know what is. We all secretly wanted to be Monica Wright and Quincy McCall after they stole our hearts in the basketball romance box office hit Love & Basketball… even if we didn’t outwardly express it. (That 8th grade summer basketball camp definitely flashed through my mind… I just wasn’t born with the gift).
The two have reportedly known each other since high school (another similarity…), specifically the 2006 McDonald’s High School All-American Game. Both Wright and Durant are 24-years-old and were both selected No. 2 overall in their respective drafts. They are also both Texas natives. Oh and if all the previous cited “coincidences” don’t strike you as peculiar… I got the game winner right here…
Durant posted this tweet in 2011 that now takes on a new significance… can’t tell me nothing!
Well… I must say the two did do a good job of keeping their relationship under wraps… They reportedly started dating in high school. And an article from May on FoxSportsNorth.com made no reference to a romantic relationship between the “close friends.” Well, I’m happy for them. And if their story ends anything like the movie that was clearly inspired by them (as if director’s foretold their future), then we know there will surely be a happy ending… with insane basketball bred babies in the future lol!
We discuss the beef between Thibs & Gar Forman, the free agency signing of Mike Dunleavy Jr., and who the Bulls may sign next at the veteran minimum. We also review the biggest winners of the off-season thus far and whether Dwight Howard made the right decision.
Two "Day In The Life" videos in the matter of a week... I'm sensing a phase. Over the weekend, I shed light on Luol Deng's Day In The Life with Life + Times, and now YouTube is making recommendations for other NBA players' Day In The Life's. Seriously, I hit the YouTube homepage last night and see Paul George, Zach Randolph, and JJ Redick (nice move btw, Clippers) but was drawn to Arron Afflalo's story first.
The hip hop crossover? As many of you know, Arron is the subject of the first verse to "Black Boy Fly" — a standout track off Kendrick Lamar's debut album, good kid, m.a.a.d. city. The connection? Kendrick Lamar is a year younger than the Orlando Magic swingman who led their Compton, CA high school to state championships his junior and senior year. Yup, imagine going to high school with a future NBA player and hottest rapper in the game less than a decade later. The documentary showcased Afflalo back home and working out at his old high school in Compton and that inspired me to look deeper at the relationship of Afflalo and Lamar. That's where I stumbled upon a fascinating dual interview with ESPN The Mag for their Music issue earlier this year, and when I realized: "Wow! I have to post this." Here's the link to that fun read and the well-done documentary short on Arron Afflalo above!