Sports Legends Aim To Improve The World

By Dave Bing
Updated: November 17, 2007

DETROIT — There is no argument that the image of professional sports and the fans’ perception of pro athletes have taken a hit. We, as NBA veterans, are not blind to the progressively tarnished image of the sport that shaped our lives. However, as I have witnessed firsthand, all is not lost.

I recently experienced a remarkable weekend that recharged my batteries and restored my faith in the value of pro sports. The members of the National Basketball Retired Players Association (NBRPA) gathered in Puerto Rico for the Annual Legends Reunion.

Former players joined to reminisce, network, discuss association business, and, of course, hit golf balls. From Rick Barry to Sam Perkins to Moses Malone, hundreds of Legends through the eras came together, not just as legacies of the game, but as learned students of goodwill and integrity.

What I witnessed was almost magical.

Here we were, no longer solely represented by our respective sports monikers. While we come from different walks of life and opposite corners of the country, there was one common denominator: a commitment to community service and making a difference worldwide.

It wasn’t nearly as much about networking or growing our own businesses as it was about helping others. That Saturday morning showed one of many examples of the depth of their characters.

One group of Legends went to a local school to host a basketball clinic for homeless boys and girls. Another group went to a nearby children’s hospital to visit ill kids.

With smiles ear to ear, Michael Ray Richardson, Eldridge Recasner and Wali Jones were teaching the X’s and O’s to the youngsters. Buck Williams, Jim McIlvaine and Willie Burton, just to name a few, went room to room at a hospital. These men created a beautiful experience for kids whose positive memories are far and few between.

During our meeting, we talked of opportunities that will allow us to continue to impact children, particularly relating to education and health. The excitement to get involved was invigorating. The energy was contagious.

I learned about the work of Jim Brogan, a former San Diego Clipper, now a professional motivational speaker. Then there’s Hall-of-Famer David Thompson, founder of 2XSALT, a Charlotte, N.C., nonprofit serving youths who are challenged spiritually, educationally, emotionally and economically. Len Elmore, NBRPA president, talked of his recent trip to Cyprus, where he joined PeacePlayers International on its program that utilizes basketball to facilitate positive interaction between youths.

The list goes on and on of former ball players using their celebrity — big and small — for the right reasons and translating it into a global impact.

Legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden once said: “You can’t live a perfect day without doing something for someone who will never be able to repay you.” These former players personify Wooden’s words.

Don’t let a few bad apples ruin the crop. Try separating the athlete from the man and discover who they really are as human beings. Their true value extends beyond the court, field, or ice.

Take a deeper look and you may be pleasantly surprised.