What are the formative moments that helped shape your career as a professional basketball player?
I started off running track before I started playing basketball. A friend of mine asked me to run track and I said yes; I evidently didn’t know what I was getting myself into because once I started running, I absolutely hated it. I was about 6 years old. From there, that same friend asked me to play basketball; I said yes again. I absolutely fell in love with it. I was terrible at first, just like track, but for whatever reason I loved it anyway and growing up I was trying to skip track practice to go to play basketball.
Eventually, by the time I got to high school I started to get better. Myself and people around me started to see the potential; started to see that I could do something, and at the very least, I could go to college. That was the first goal, try to get a D1 scholarship. From there, the ultimate goal was always to make it to the NBA, but along the way, particularly if you don’t come out of the womb an NBA player, you have to take steps to get there. Once I got to college, I focused on trying to make it to the NBA. I was drafted first round, by the Sixers, my hometown and two dreams kind of came true at the same time; one is getting drafted and two is getting drafted by your hometown, your favorite team. It was great. I played 14 years in the NBA, I retired in 2015. I had a lot of ups and downs in the NBA, like most people, but I learned a lot. It helped me become a better man through all the hard times and that is where I am now.
Why did you get involved with PYB?
I got involved with Philadelphia Youth Basketball for a number of reasons, but I think the biggest reason is because I see PYB as a program and place (in reference to PYB’s future center) that can save lives; I see the difference that PYB can make.
I grew up in three different sections of the city. One is Mt. Airy, where I am from. The second is in Plymouth Meeting, right outside of Philly, where I went to high school. The third is Nice town where I stayed the majority of my summers. Nicetown has a nice name but there is nothing nice about it. It is right next to Logan and I know first hand there is nothing there to give these kids hope that they can do something. At the park I played at in Nicetown, there were drug dealers on the park bench watching the game, betting on the game, and selling drugs. I could have easily fallen into that trap, dealing drugs or doing drugs. You go outside and there are crack bottles on the ground and there are crack users on the corners. Right next door was literally a drug house with people selling drugs out of their home. The only thing separating the house I stayed at and their house was a banister, which you could easily climb over; a 6 year old could easily climb over.
They were selling drugs right there, we shared the same porch, we were just separated by a banister. I definitely know first hand that there is nothing there to give these kids hope. I know plenty of kids from Nicetown that are dead, in jail, or are still living on the same block. Having a center and program like PYB when we were coming up, could have saved their lives.
PYB can give hope, it can give something to look forward to doing. There was nothing like Philadelphia Youth Basketball for me growing up, and some friends fell into drugs and drug using because it was right in our face; there was pretty much nothing you could do. Sports was something if you weren’t absolutely in love with it, then you didn’t play. My parents didn’t know anything about sports, they were just trying to survive themselves. My friends growing up, they definitely weren’t NBA players, but they could have definitely received a scholarship to college playing basketball; that could have helped them, that could have saved their lives.
What excites you about PYB?
I am excited about the center and the opportunity to save some lives. Everybody is not going to draw to PYB, but a majority number will. At the park I spoke to, where they were selling drugs, those kids didn’t make it to a center because they did not have one. The center is going to be a safe place for young people to grow and pursue their passions and to give them something to look forward to after school. The center will give them something to do during the summer, something more than just being on the street seeing crime and whatever else activity that brings. It will also give them a place to go other than just staying in the house. Just the fact that PYB can literally save the lives of our young people, that is what is most exciting to me.
In your opinion, what is the importance that leadership has at a young age?
One leader in a family can change the generation of that family. These days we have kids raising kids and nobody can really lead anybody; it turns into one big circle of kids raising kids and that cycle is not working. When kids are having their kids at young ages, it changes the rest of their life. It is a big responsibility for a young person to care for a baby. It is hard work to be a parent and a lot of the time, those young people have to drop out of school, or if they are having kids in high school, there is a higher chance they won’t attend college. Sometimes there is just one person raising that baby as well, especially if the male in the situation is not there.
There has been one big cycle that keeps going on in the generations. It is difficult to grow up in that way and maybe having the right leader or role model, they don’t go to that party or they don’t go to that club, or do that drug, or have sex with that person because they have someone to look up to. PYB is creating young leaders with different aspirations while also exposing those young leaders to older role models and community influencers. As a result, the young people are not just following the crowd or doing the same thing that everyone else is doing. That is why leadership is important, particularly in the perimeters of the city.
What do you think a PYB center would mean for the young people of Philadelphia and for Philadelphia itself?
It would give our young people hope. A lot of people from the outside do not want to waste their time, energy, and money on under-resourced parts of the city; they do not think it’s worth it, and unfortunately, that leads to our kids not seeing that worth in themselves. A center would give our kids hope. Having sports for our young people to play in the city can literally change someone’s life because that is all young people ever see in the media, sports and entertainment.
As for the city, it would offer the city even more than what the city is already doing. Right now Philly is in a state of being progressive and trying to grow as a city and getting people involved with the community. We are trying to compete with some of the other biggest cities in the country; the tech scene is really starting to grow, the real-estate scene is booming, you see construction going on all the time, you see cranes, and new businesses opening–big and small; Amazon chose Philly as a place to look for new headquarters. There is a lot going on in Philly and having a center like the one PYB is trying to create, will help Philly even more to grow and to show the rest of the country that Philly is doing some special things. Putting a center in the middle of an underprivileged and a forgotten town like Logan would really show the rest of the country what Philly is about.
What does life look like post NBA career?
Post NBA career, life looks very, very different. Since high school and college, everything in my life was surrounded around basketball. Now that basketball isn’t the primary goal in my life, I look for other things to fill that passion. Of course my family has always been there and they’ve always been the biggest part of my life, but filling that space that basketball once filled is pretty much where I am right now. I am trying to figure out my next steps and what I want to do going forward. I am very much into being an entrepreneur; I have several businesses that I am starting and it’s been fun seeing the progress and growth. I’m really focusing on that and my family.
Are there any other comments you would like to add or share?
PYB is a movement and everyone involved can feel it doing just that – moving! If you are not already a part of the movement you should join right away, before it is too late.
To learn more about John’s post-NBA personal and professional development check out his website HERE.