Portland Trail Blazers center Festus Ezeli reached out to children at the Regence Boys & Girls Club in North Portland to empower them and spread a message of motivation on Thursday. Growing up in Nigeria and leaving his family to come to the United States at 14, Ezeli understands the importance of emotional support at a young age. He first spoke to them about his journey to the NBA and their personal journeys in the years to come, before busting out some karaoke, teaching them how to lose at bumper pool, partnering up for some table tennis, and coloring with pastels in the art room.
"I’ve always been a big fan of kids just because I wish I had role models as a kid that came to me and talked to me and held my hand and told me I was going to make it, because I had to do a lot of that stuff on my own, especially coming out here to the United States." Ezeli said. "For me, it’s kind of personal. I think it’s great that they can look at me and say ‘Hey, he’s the example of where hard work gets you, or being respectful gets you, being a good guy.’ Having a good guy to look up to, I think that’s a great thing to be.
"Leadership by example is my motto, but at the same time I want to be relatable. I want them to know that ‘Listen, it wasn’t just because I was great at basketball. I came from nothing. Like, I literally just picked up the game when I was much older than you guys and I got to where I wanted to get to because of a lot of hard work and putting myself in the right situation, being a good guy, doing the right things.’ If I can help them, if I can preach that message to them over and over, hopefully it sticks. I want them to believe in themselves because right now this is their molding stage. So if you put that fire in them and let them know that ‘You know what, you can do whatever you want to do,’ you never know. You never know who is sitting in here today. This might be the next president of the United States sitting here. You never know. I’m motivating them to reach their potential."
Ezeli is glad to work with the Portland community while he is yet unable to put in work on the court, though he is progressing toward a return from an offseason knee procedure. As of now, he will not be 100 percent by the start of training camp next Monday, eager though he may be.
"My knee is getting better. There’s been some progress since I started. Hopefully here in the next few weeks we start ramping it up and start doing some more court activities, but it’s exciting to be with this training staff. They’re really good at what they do. The training staff, the coaching staff—being around them is great. I can’t wait to get on the court."
Healthy or not, it’s a pleasure to have Ezeli in Portland. Check out these Blazer’s Edge photos of him with the children below.