Dream Team of Health Care

As I alluded to in my introduction to this trip, Mali is orchestrating the largest integrated health campaign in the world. Translation to my sports readers . . the DREAM TEAM of health campaigns. Any time you get a group of All-Stars together, whether they are the best athletes in the world, or public and private organizations dedicated to various health initiatives, leadership becomes the deciding factor in the over-all success. Essentially this campaign could be the greatest “pick-up game” ever played in the health field (with incredible players, but no real direction), or it will be known as the “gold-medalist”– the most productive distribution of targeted health care needs to a country.

In my opinion, the Mali Ministry of Health is Red Arabauch, of this Dream Team, as it is leading the charge with both human resources and financial support. This is important for two reasons, the first of which is that it is much more difficult to help someone who is unwilling to help themselves. In this case, the national government has already established the groundwork to make this a campaign a success. Secondly, when you are pooling the resources and expertise of so many “big-time players” (in this case it would include the UN Foundation, Malaria No More, PMI, WHO and many more) there must be a organized and qualified voice to take the lead, a voice that not only knows the qualifications of the players but that also has a pulse on the community.

As we all know, teamwork is essential to success. I have been amazed at the willingness of these “players” to work together. No egos, no conflict of process or policy, just a willingness for everyone to do their part and also to defer to their teammates in areas where they are more qualified. As we launch this campaign, I am filled with a sense of anticipation.

There is something exciting about putting our best team forward in this ground breaking effort. Knowing that at the end of this week it is not a gold medal we will attain, but rather the knowledge we are not only saving thousands of lives but we are also creating a blueprint for many more successful campaigns to come!

Inspiring Women

What comes to mind when I say “Inspiring women?” Is it the face of a mother or grandmother who made numerous sacrifices to raise you? Maybe a teacher who gave you the knowledge and confidence to pursue your dreams? A friend or family member who courageously confronted cancer? In the WNBA, we celebrate Inspiring Women—in light of that, I want to share with you some of the most amazing women I have ever met.

Every Wednesday since 2004, in the remote village of Konodimini, Mali, a selected group of women called Wassa, which translates to “satisfaction”, has gathered together to discuss the health of their community as well as the self-imposed micro-economic system they established. All the women pool their money together into a box that represents the group savings, from there the women are allowed to take out loans interest free for up to 3 months if there is a family emergency or their child must go to the doctor. These women are also allowed to take out a one month loan with interest if they desire to start a small business, which often entails selling grain or some other agricultural based product. None of these women have a MBA in economics or probably even have an education greater than primary school, yet they have revolutionary insight and leadership skills that transcends the dirt huts they abide in.

After the ceremonial dance they performed to welcome us to their village, we sat in a circle and listened to not only their economic system, but their involvement with our health campaign. These women guaranteed us that there would be 100% participation by the mothers and the children from their village. Since this was the first day of our Campaign (providing a measles and polio vaccine as well as vitamin A, de-worming and a mosquito net to every child under the age of 5) these remarkable women went around at 5 a.m to make sure that all the women in the village were not only aware of the campaign but would be participating!

Throughout history women have traditionally played the role of the care-giver, but it was the intuitive leadership and management skills that I found quite simply—INSPIRATIONAL!

Just a Voice

Talking is an integral part of today’s culture, to the point where we can barely wait for the plane to land before we turn on our cell phones. We are constantly in conversation: talking to friends, co-workers, family members or lovers. In America it would be hard for us to imagine this, but what if we were talking and no one could hear us . . . Either our voice was simply too soft or there was no one there to listen. What if you had to rely on someone else to speak for you? What if you were the one speaking on behalf of those who desperately want to be included in the conversation or simply to be heard?

Spokesperson-(n) somebody authorized to speak on behalf of another person or other people.

A few days ago, I had the opportunity to join the NBA and GBC (Global Business Coalition) on HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria) where we had a meeting with a group Reuter journalists from around the world talking about the NBA’s partnership with the GBC and the other NBA Cares initiatives as well as Basketball Without Borders. As I talked about my trips to Africa last year, and my upcoming visits to South Africa and Mali I felt unusually emotional. There was also this odd sense of pressure that I don’t usually get when I speak in front of people. It was an uncanny excitement that I had the opportunity to share my thoughts and experiences combined with a sobering sense of responsibility to make sure that I not only relay what I know, but more importantly that I tell the story correctly. You see I am not a journalist or a author, I am not trying to persuade you to my opinion on matters–I am essentially just a VOICE.

Basketball has proven to be the microphone by which my voice is heard. As I head to South Africa with an NGO called Triad (www.triadtrust.org), my voice will be used to not only to teach what I know about basketball as we do camps and clinics, but also to educate the coaches and players about HIV/AIDS and hope to give them information to live healthier lives as well as attempting to eliminate the stigma associated with those diseases. From there I will travel up to Mali with the UN Foundation to participate in the largest integrated net distribution campaign and to talk about the devastating effects of Malaria.

I write this with complete humility, not assuming that my voice is somehow more important than the next, but rather as prelude to the trip I am about to make with recognition of the responsibility I have to tell the stories that I will encounter. It will be my honor to share with you my journey over the next few weeks. . . Perhaps what I am saying will spark some conversation, and through that dialog, an awareness, interest, and desire to get involved will be ignited.

Back to San Antonio

With a small break in my schedule, I recently returned to San Antonio to see what I could accomplish in four quick days . . . First of all, I was reminded about how quick our off-season goes—can you believe it has already been 2 months since our season ended?? It was good to be able to work out with our assistant coach, Olaf Lange. I have worked with Olaf for about 5 years now; he truly is one of the best individual coaches in the game!! Even though I am now a veteran player, I never stop trying to improve my skills.

I try to break up my off-season in two different phases. Directly after the season, I take a break from basketball. I will cross train with different exercises to stay in shape, but it is more to keep a consistent aerobic base and I will work on my rehab exercises and core strength. During this time, I devote much of my time to my family and work off-the-court. As a spokesperson for Nothing But Nets, I have been able to travel a bit with them (I am meeting up with them in Mali in December) as well as participate in different community initatives with Notre Dame and the NBA/WNBA. After the New Year, I will turn my focus back to the court as I work on different aspects of my game and work myself back into game shape.

Back in San Antonio I was able to not only work out, but also visit 3 different schools talking about Nothing But Nets, the importance of reading, education, and goal setting. I embrace the opportunity to speak to today’s youth—there are so many factors that influence their lives and I just hope to give them advice that will give them guidance to make positive decisions. My favorite part of speaking to kids is the question and answer session at the end. Often times with the younger kids, they will raise their hand and inform me that I am taller than their dad, or that their favorite color is red. I had the opportunity to speak to a few hundred 6th graders. One young man in the back raised his hand emphatically, so I asked him what his question was. He said, “Do you date short guys?” “Will you go out with me?” boys will be boys

The rest of my time was split between talking to potential season ticket holders and sponsors. As a player, I not only am grateful for the opportunity to play basketball for a living, but I am very passionate about what the WNBA stands for!! This is going to be the best season yet; you definitely don’t want to miss out . . . so please, get your season tickets today (I had to throw my sales pitch in there)!!!

I wish you all a wonderful thanksgiving with friends and family!!

Picking up the pen again…

After taking the summer off from blogging, I figured I might “pick up the pen” so to speak and get back to writing. My off-season so far has been a bit chaotic, so I will try to bring you up to speed pretty quick. In the beginning of Oct, I found myself at the National Book Festival in D.C.—this happens to be one of my favorite events. It combines two things I am passionate about: I am an avid reader and I LOVE the NBA/WNBA’s Read to Achieve program that not only creates reading and learning centers for kids, but emphasizes the importance of education and helps to develop a love for reading!! The next stop I found myself in New York for the WNBA’s sales and marketing meetings—as an athlete, it was very educational to understand the business beyond what happens on the court.

Next stop: the mid-west. I spent most of my life on a farm, so there is something comforting about going home to the familiar faces and environment. My high school, North Miami, is literally in the middle of 4 cornfields—I know typical of Indiana. The first event was fundraiser for Nothing But Nets (www.nothingbutnets) where we raised $4,500! Then, I did a free basketball clinic for all the kids of my school. I have to share one quick story with ya: there is a gym full of K-6 graders, so you can only imagine that it was a bit chaotic with basketball going everywhere. One of the little kids accidentally set off the fire alarm, next thing I know the siren is blaring loudly and all my little kids got very quiet and formed a perfect single file line around the gym to go out of the building They were so cute!!

Continuing from Indiana, I headed up to Detroit where Nothing But Nets was doing a city launch. I had the opportunity to talk at the faith breakfast—where I spoke to leaders of many different churches in the area about my experiences from Africa and how they can get involved with our fight of preventing malaria. I also had the opportunity to visit Pare Elementary School. Many people approach me, asking how tall I was in the first grade, ect . . . well obviously I don’t remember stuff like that, but I can guarantee you that my little line on this kindergarten chart would have been the highest line by far!!!

NBA Finals 2007

Ever since I can remember, my coaches have always said, “defense wins championships.” Well, after this year’s NBA Finals, I would beg to differ!!

I definitely have friends who live by the philosophy that their offense is their best defense—I am not prepared to go to that extreme, but I do think that the role of the offensive production should be re-evaluated in the defensive-oriented old school of thought.

This years Finals lacked the excitement that last years provide, for the sheer simple fact that the average person does not watch a basketball game for great defense. Unless someone is getting their shot sent to the third row—most fans want to see high-flying dunks, long rang 3s, and ankle-breaking cross-overs NOT a great double team on the world’s best power forward or tremendous individual defense on one of the leagues top young players.

At the end of the day, it is the team with the most points on the board that wins. Defense might keep the number low under your opponent’s name, but offensive execution is what puts a larger number under yours.

This was definitely a rare Final series, where two defensively solid teams battled it out. Experience was a huge deciding factor for the San Antonio Spurs. No, their offense wasn’t fluid or smooth, but in true championship fashion . . .they made plays when they needed to.

So what happens when defensive efforts even out . . . dare I say it coach???? I think “offense” just might have won its first championship!!

Easter in Israel

I am currently playing for Lotos, Gdynia (Poland), where we just had 3 days off for Easter. It was not enough time to go home, so I thought I would do the next best thing: go to Israel. I am very open about my Christian Faith, so I thought it would be a unique experience to actually see the places I have always read about.

First of all, the hardest part was actually getting there. Although I was not really scared to travel, I guess the airlines were a bit scared of me—you see coming and going I had to go through extra security checks where it took a couple hours to convince them that my ipod speakers were NOT a bomb. Once I arrived, I was immediately approached by a taxi driver, who kindly offered his services for a “special” price. Since I was in for an hour ride, I asked to look the sports page—to my surprise there was a huge article about Shay Doron (3rd round draft pick for the New York Liberty). There was a lot of national pride for the first Israeli woman to be drafted in the WNBA. I also learned that game 1 of the finals for the women’s league was taking place that night, so of course I made plans to go . . . ironic that I couldn’t escape the WNBA, even on my vacation.

The match-up was Ramla, Plenette Pierson (Detroit), Latoya Thomas (San Antonio), and Monique Currie (Chicago) against Ramat Hasharon who sported Mwadi Mabika (L.A.) and Deanna Jackson (Chicago). Uncertain of what to expect, I was pleasantly surprised. The gym was packed, on one side there were mostly young men (yes, I said men) who stood the whole game, cheering, jumping up and down, and of course harassing the opponent and the officials. The other side were more of average fans, families, and sponsors. Although it was a hard fought game, Ramla came out with the first win of the series.

The rest of my weekend consisted of a few tours, from Old Jerusalem, to Nazareth, to the Dead Sea. I was deeply impacted by the “past” and “present” of what I was experiencing. As I walked down the Via Dolorosa with thousands other people on Friday, retracing the steps that Christ walked, I found myself in awe of the events that had taken place there. For such a small country, it boasts an amazing amount of historical sites.

Then, there was the “present” of the situation. Staying in Jerusalem during the Passover, taught me a lot about the Jewish religion. As I walked though the streets I couldn’t help but to be amazed at the contrasting yet integrated blend of class, culture, and religion. It was a combination of the Orthodox Jew the Muslim and the Christian. Looking around, there were literally people from all around the world, most of which couldn’t communicate if they wanted to, yet they were bound together through the bond of a similar faith (respectively). There are very few things that universally unites people in a way were words are not necessary: Faith and sports are unique in this area.

Right or Responsibility?

As I spend more time working with Nothing But Nets, I have surprisingly answered a lot of questions about why I am doing this on a personal level and also why the NBA is involved on a global level? The very first time I got this question, I was honestly shocked—I had prepared my talking points about the organization, and what we were trying to accomplish, but I never really spent time questioning my individual motives. My answer is quite simple: my Faith challenges me to love everyone in a non-discriminating manner. Although my personal reason is relatively straightforward, I couldn’t help but think more about this “why” question, and therefore conducted an inner debate of Right vs. Responsibility.

Right: An entitlement, freedom, privilege.

Responsibility: the state, fact, or position of being accountable to somebody or for something.

Do I, as an individual professional athlete and the NBA as a premier sports league have the responsibility to do community service? Is it mandated by our “elite” roles in society? Is the old adage true, “ to much whom given, much is required?”


Is it an individualistic or business decision, strictly based on personal choice of involvement, void of any obligation? Do I have a right to live my life completely and solely for myself with absolutely no interest in the welfare of my neighbor?

After much thought I have come to the conclusion that everyone has a right to answer this highly debated question according to their own beliefs, but in exercising my personal right I would say the responsibility lies on all of our backs!

Nothing But Nets is only one of the NBA’s many NBA Cares Initiatives. In our last day in Angola, Sam Perkins and I took place in a Basketball without Borders clinic and the donation of four new basketball courts sponsored by Sprite. The picture I am enclosing isn’t of the ribbon-cutting ceremony, but rather of the children who will be tirelessly utilizing this new addition to their neighborhood.

The NBA takes on the responsibility of not only ensuring these children reach their teenage years (through Nothing But Nets) but also establishes global grassroots basketball programs to encourage them to be active and healthy. Think about a little kid standing outside the toy store window, hands pressed against the glass, everyday longing for that one special toy. Then, one day, someone invites that kid to actually go into the store and paid for that toy. These kids are not only hungry for basketball, but more importantly they are starving for someone to actually show that they care!

So in answering the question of “why” I would simply say: yes, the NBA and I could rightfully do nothing–but then I would ask you . . . is that really right?

Becoming a Player in the Game of Eliminating AIDS

Have you ever sat next to someone at a game who knew absolutely NOTHING about basketball? Every play they were like a 3 year-old asking, “but why . . .” That’s what I felt like on this trip: clueless, but very interested. Every question I raised brought yet another one to be answered. I felt empowered by the small amount of information I have gained, and with this newly found knowledge comes a privilege and a responsibility to share that with you!! I want you to join with me in this very serious competition that I have recently engaged as a player in: the Game of Eliminating AIDS. Before we begin, I must warn you—it is not your normal game, the setting is real and the stakes are life and death!

Starting line up:

Team 1—good guys (GBC) Team 2—bad guys
-Businesses -AIDS/HIV, Malaria
-Government officials -Poverty
-NGOs -Ignorance
-Community Activists -Cultural-based gender inequity
-Average person -lack of medical care/supplies

Your first question may be: why should you even be a participant in this game? If a moral conviction isn’t enough to get you signed up, then please note that bad guys have an increasingly negative effect on the global economy and that this pandemic and other related global health issues are continuing to grow at an alarming rate: every day 8,500 people die from AIDS and there are 13,000 newly infected people.

Before we go any farther, I must ask you to do one thing: you must eliminate all misconstrued ideas you might have about our opposition. AIDS is not a disease that only targets promiscuous women, a specific sexual orientation, or drug users. It is the #1 killer in the USA for young African American Women. Testing HIV positive is not a death sentence! Through Anti Retroviral drugs (ARVS), HIV positive people are able to live normal lives. There are 40 million infected HIV positive people around the world, but what you may have failed to realize is how many people are affected by this disease. By 2010, more than 20 million children will be orphaned by AIDS worldwide!

Just like any winning team, we must all work together. Yes, there are some players that are more talented—we can’t all be the “Michael Jordan” of battling this complex opponent, but that doesn’t make our individual contributions any less significant.

As you are debating whether to join our team, you may be wondering what your role is going to be. If you are approaching this competition from a corporate perspective, I strongly encourage you to check out the GBC—it is a coalition that skillfully joins public and private partnerships to produce the maximum influence possible. If you are wondering how one person can make a difference, there are numerous ways you can get involved. You can support the Red Campaign—where a percentage of profits from companies like: Motorola, GAP, MAC, American Express, and many more will be donated toward the Global Fund. You can participate in local AIDS walks to raise support. If you are passionate about one specific area (ex: orphaned children), then find a local or global non-profit organization that focuses its efforts in that category.

Just like in the game of basketball, we all must be educated and aware of the rules by which we are playing. I strongly encourage everyone to know their HIV status. When it comes to this game—ignorance and disinterest are deadly risks to take. Knowledge is not only an empowering resource that allows us to unify in our strategic approach to this fatal opponent, it also allows us to recruit more people to strengthen our team. With all this being said, the ball is now in your court . . . . please don’t stand on the sidelines anymore, we need you in the game!!!

Kenya: World AIDS Day

Once upon a time, far-far away, there lived a brave little orphan girl . . . . both her parents died from a terrible disease, and upon realizing that she will face the rest of her life without the people she came to know as “mom” and “dad” she courageously faces the fact that she too has this disease.

Unfortunately this isn’t a script out of a storybook, if that were the case, then I could easily write the “happily ever after” at the end and all would be well— no this story is true. The time is now, the place is Kenya, and the girl . . . well she represents one of an estimated 2.2 million Kenyans who are currently living with HIV infection.

I am currently participating in the GBC (Global Business Coalition) initiative called: Healthy Women, Healthy Economies in Nairobi, Kenya. We spent the morning walking through the Kiambiyu Slum. We visited the Kenya Network of Women with AIDS (KENWA) and listened to moving testimonies of women who were HIV positive. Often times they are deserted by their husbands, forsaken by their families, and shunned by the community.

The next stop was the Nairobi Women’s Hospital, which specialized in Gender Violence. It is said that 50% of women will be raped. There is an old wives tale that states that if a man who is HIV positive sleeps with a virgin, he will be cured—this contributes to the high number of rape victims. This hospital is truly unique in that it provides health care as well as counseling for these victims.

This leads to my last stop of the day, where I was given a public HIV test. It was a quick blood test from a finger prick. I was o.k. with the test, and was confidently proclaiming my status as HIV negative. Then the counselor asked me if I was certain that I was reading the test results correctly—for a second my heart stopped and my mind started playing the “what if” game. Different scenarios were racing through my head, as my mind replayed the images of the men, women, and children I had seen throughout the day. The counselor ended up telling me that I was correct, that I was negative. After an internal sigh of relief, I still couldn’t help but ponder on how my life would change. . . . .

What I found is that a lot of people refuse to get tested, even though the procedure is free to public. To them it is like the “beginning of the end” but as I talked with various HIV positive patients, I would argue that it is the “end” and also the “beginning”. It definitely ends life how you knew it to some degree, but if you speak to those who got tested and are now living healthier lives through the medicines they were given—you see that they have a “new beginning.” I have much more to tell . . . but I must sign off for now . . tomorrow is going to be another emotional day!!