The Director of Scouting for the Portland Trail Blazers (and good friend of this site) Mike Born is participating in Basketball Without Borders--Africa this week. It's good to know the Blazers are participating in such a life-changing, and perhaps society-changing--project. Mike will be sharing his reflections on this event with us. Here is his first update from Johannesburg, South Africa.
JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA, September 2, 2009 -
What a day. Wow! We just finished day one of the seventh edition of Basketball without Borders- Africa. I have heard what a terrific experience this camp has been from Chad Buchanan (who attended last year), Kevin Pritchard (who attend a few years back) and various other NBA coaches and scouts. I am really excited to see how the week plays out. I want to first talk a little history of BWOB and this years camp as well. The BWOB Africa camp was created by the NBA/WNBA to reach out into the community and provide projects focusing on education, grassroots basketball development and HIV/AIDS education. The BWOB Africa is a huge outreach program to help the African community in so many different ways. The basketball instructional camp is for young people that utilizes the sport as a vehicle to influence positive social change, It features current and former NBA players and team personnel as camp coaches for 60 young athletes (19 & under) from 23 countries across Africa. The staff participate in various projects including a return to the Cotlands Community Center in Soweto, which was opened during BWB Africa 2007 to help plant vegetable seeds and cultivate the land, a Habitat for Humanity Build Day where we will help construct four new homes for families that have never had the chance to own their own house, a youth basketball clinic, and of course teaching campers how to improve their basketball skills on the court and the daily life-skills seminars to help them make good decisions off it as well. The camp lasts from September 2 - 6. The staff here this upcoming week is going to be tremendous. There is a daunting amount of work that goes into organizing an event like this and you can tell they have done this dance before. From the staff that has organized this entire project, selected/organized the arrangement for all 60 players, the coaches/scouts here to help the campers, down to the many NBA players who are attending this year...it is a terrific group of people. Dikembe Mutombo will lead a contingent of NBA/WNBA players including Dwight Howard, Chris Bosh, Dirk Nowitzki, Luc Mbah a Moute, Teresa Edwards, Nkeysha Sales along with other players here as camp coaches. There is a tremendous purpose to why the NBA/WNBA and all the people are here. And I am already starting to sense a feeling of unbelievable purpose in being here myself.
Day 1. It was a great start to the camp. We are only one day in, but I can already feel myself being pulled in by the purpose of us being in South Africa. I of course want to let things play out, but it is hard not feel the care and love of the people involved with this camp. In talking to others who previously have been involved with the camp, it is apparent how all phases have improved from year to year. From a player like Luc Mbah a Moute (from Cameroon/UCLA/Milwaukee Bucks), who was a participant in one of the initial camps here, and his story of how BWOB Africa helped pave a new road for him to the other various stories of outreach, I can already see how working this camp can change the lives of all people involved.
A large group of us started the day by visiting the Apartheid Museum. Many of the NBA/WNBA players, joined by their families and various staff members, were part of this group. I have seen some historic places in my life, ranging from a concentration camp in Germany, to the Berlin Wall, Normandy Beach and the Great Wall of China, but this place tops the list of sites that can change how a person views the world. To know that Nelson Madela sacrificed 27 years of his life in prison knowing he had a greater purpose and was willing to make the sacrifices to lead a group of people is awe-inspiring to say the least. We spent just under three hours at the museum and it was a moving experience. It is so perfectly laid out and encompasses so much history. We could have spent two or three days here and still not taken it all in. It was an awesome place to see.
From there we moved to the gym facilities to scout out the talent. Six teams with 10 campers per team will participate so the coaches/scouts job in the afternoon was to evaluate the campers for our draft. I like to consider myself a thorough scout so it is not easy to evaluate 60 kids in 90 minutes and then draft a team of 10 kids, but my assistant Carlos Barroca and I did the best we could and we like the team we comprised. I have heard how hard the kids play, how hungry they are to learn and how appreciative they are that we are here. They were right on the money and the best part of getting to know the kids has only just begun. I only saw them play for a brief time, but you can feel the love for the game and how thankful they are for this opportunity. I cannot wait to gather our team tomorrow and get to know the kids. We tried to draft a group of players who not only had talent, but had a good feel for the game and also looked like they truly cared about their teammates. I want our team to learn as much as we can about the game...but more importantly, I want them to play hard, play together and really enjoy the experience of BWOB Africa.
We then moved on to the draft and some meetings at night. This was time for various discussions concerning the camp and the opportunity to hear two guest speakers in Richard Lapchick and Bob Nemang. These gentlemen discussed their personal stories about how apartheid was prevalent in their lives. It was as moving for me to hear their stories as it was to visit the museum. Hearing their extremely personal stories granted me an even greater appreciation of all that I have, all that my family has, and how the world is always changing. They each talked for about 15 minutes, but I would have listened all night. I was touched by both of their stories and they only reiterated how much our being here matters to the people we can reach out and help.
Our entire group finished the night by enjoying dinner together at an excellent African restaurant just outside our hotel. I believe every person involved with this camp was in attendance, including some 75 people. I know I am new to this experience, but I can see why others spoke so highly about this camp. For all those fortunate enough to be involved, it already feels like a huge, tight-knit family united by our purpose. We are here to help people- most of whom are such giving human beings in their own right. With a person like Dikembe Mutombo in your presence, the abundance of smiles and hugs is apparent. I know it is only day one, but I am eager to experience more of what will surely turn out to be one of the most memorable experiences of my life.
Thanks to Mike Born for the update. I'm sure we're all looking forward to hearing more about his trip and the experience.