As Black History Month winds down, I’ve been thinking about some of the most influential Black men who have made a lasting difference in my life.
Three coaches come to mind, all of whom made a great impact that reached much further than the court.
The first was John Chaney.
I was a freshman in high school when his Temple University basketball team came to practice in my highschool gym. Our school had been selected as a practice site for the NCAA Championships that were taking place that year in Atlanta, and even though I was far from showing any real promise as a player at that time, my principal had come to take me out of class so that I could watch the team play.
I was spellbound by Coach Chaney that day, not only because he was a great coach but because of what happened after practice. He took the time to meet me and to speak to our highschool team, and instead of focusing on how to be a better basketball player, he spoke to us passionately about the importance of education.
We were all young guys who had dreams to make it big, but Coach Chaney urged us to make our education a top priority, too. For the entirety of his career, he was a fierce advocate for kids from underfunded neighborhoods and was determined to help them better their lives through education — an objective that he helped so many student-athletes accomplish.
The second was John Thompson.
He was the head coach of Georgetown — one of the few universities who had a Black head coach, and the first Afrian-American head coach to win the NCAA Division I men’s basketball championship. Georgetown was THE team when I was growing up, and Coach Thompson was the man. He was legendary and bigger than life.
When Coach Thompson was recruiting me he came to visit me in Atlanta. My mom, who was a huge Celtics fan, was thrilled! Yet what impressed us both was not just what he’d done on the court but would he’d done for his players, as well as college players nationwide. He stood up for them and fought for what was right, and had the courage to take a stand against discriminatory practices that largely left African-American athletes cast aside. Like Coach Chaney, Coach Thompson was passionate about education and nurturing his players to be the best people they could be.
And finally, there was George Raveling.
When Coach Raveling was recruiting me, his team had not had the same success as Coach Thompson, yet he had the same passionate and inspiring vibe. It was obvious that he was much more than a coach — he was an educator and a servant leader, too. He wanted his players to have a full college experience, and required that they lived with roommates who were non-athletes so they could broaden their circles and see different perspectives.
He was dedicated to caring for his players and saw them as people first. He believed that 99% of coaching was to be sensitive to others’ needs, and that attitude is still prevalent whenever I see him to this day.
Each of these three coaches left a mark on my life that I’ll never forget. They were hugely successful coaches but more than that, they were pioneers in so many other ways.
In an industry where a lot of young men get taken advantage of, they made a point to be great role models. They spoke out for their players, openly cared and guided them to be better people, and made sure to emphasize the importance of education to provide for better futures.
Their advocacy changed rules that directly benefited me, and their attitudes made lasting impacts that changed the lives of so many young adults.
Each of these three men planted seeds in me that have since blossomed in my life — and in many ways have contributed to the way my work has grown.
I’m sure their influence helped me recognize the needs within my old neighborhood, and gave me the inspiration and the courage to create the Future Foundation to provide resources for the kids there who were — and are — in need.
And I’m sure it was their example that has made me passionate about having a broad and impactful life outside of basketball — to become the best worker, husband, father, brother, and son that I can be.
I think it’s so important that we take time to reflect on the mentors who have greatly shaped our lives — and this Black History Month has provided the perfect chance to do it.
Because when we recognize these influential people and the impact that they’ve had, we can not only be grateful for the help they’ve been in creating our lives today…but they can serve as beautiful examples of how WE can influence others, too.