How many pro athletes can get to say they’ve been recognized by the President for their community work? For one of the purest shooters to ever play in the NBA, Allan Houston, that’s probably the biggest swish in his career.
This year, Houston received the President’s Council on Service and Civic Engagement Award from the Obama administration. When Houston’s not manning his posts as Assistant GM of the Knicks and GM of the D-League’s Erie BayHawks, he’s running his Legacy Foundation, which includes the “Father Knows Best” program. Its mission is to provide a unique combination of basketball and relationship-building activities for fathers, children, mentors and mentees, emphasizing leadership, communication and the importance of spending quality time together. Some of the statistics are staggering: According to the National Fatherhood Initiative, 90 percent of all runaway and homeless children are from fatherless homes; 75 percent of all adolescent patients in chemical abuse centers come from fatherless homes and 71 percent of high school dropouts come from fatherless homes.
On Saturday, the iStar Charity Shootout Five Borough Basketball Tour hosted the “Father Knows Best” program to raise money for Houston’s fatherhood initiative. 2,500 participants took part in basketball clinics and relationship development. During the event, I sat down with Houston, who is currently co-producing a film project addressing fatherlessness, for a candid conversation about the issues he’s tackling.
Jared Zwerling: How was today’s experience?
Allan Houston: I just love getting a chance to hear from the young men and women. The uniqueness of our event is that you feel like, as a coach and as a father, you’re talking with other fathers and coaches about the impact they’re having on the kids’ lives. So then what you do is you translate that on the court. You teach a father, coach or mentor how to do certain basketball drills, how to train them. On the court, it kind of translates because you’re doing these drills together. Sometimes the father may make a mistake or something, or the daughter may make a mistake, but the message is that the job of a parent, a father, is to train them to be the best that they can possibly be according to our experience and knowledge. That’s why we named it “Father Knows Best.” That’s our ultimate legacy. That’s the most important thing. There are so many issues in society — we talk about the violence, the drugs, the unwanted pregnancies — but at the end of the day, it comes down to what we taught our children to be. This is where society has been affected. Kids going to school and stabbing someone. What makes a kid want to do that? Because he’s missing something at home. We can’t look at the aftereffect; we have to look at the source, so to me that’s why this is important. Fatherhood, mentoring, teaching and training.
Zwerling: What do you try to instill in the fathers, mentors and coaches?
Houston: First of all, as a man the most important thing you have in your life now is your child that you’re carrying. That’s it. Everything else comes second; personally, for me, other than your relationship with God and your wife. Let’s talk about how you can be most effective at being a father. I had a conversation with a guy. He said, “This kid is having trouble; he’s not listening to his mom.” And so we just talked together and I broke it down. I said to the kid, “The bottom line is, your job when you graduate, you’re going to have a coach, you’re going to have an employer that’s going to need to trust you that you can do your job, do what you’re supposed to do. If you’re not practicing that or working on that right now, you’re going to fail. Talk to your mentor. Form those foundations and habits now. We’re using the game of basketball to teach those deep truths and lessons to a seventh grader who doesn’t have a dad. That’s what it’s all about.
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