Team LeBron and Team Stephen select charities for the NBA All-Star Game This year’s festivities will result in donations to L.A. community organizations

After players participating in this year’s NBA All-Star Game on Feb. 18 leave the hardwood and the swarms of visitors to the Los Angeles area flee the city, hopefully a lasting impression on the community will be the final result.

As part of the NBA’s revamped All-Star format, the 2018 NBA All-Star teams will play for charity, a decision the league and players association crafted to enhance the All-Star Game and make an impact on the local community.

On Wednesday morning, captains LeBron James and Stephen Curry revealed their charities in videos shared on social media. Team LeBron selected After School All-Stars of Los Angeles, while Team Stephen chose Brotherhood Crusade. The winning team will donate $350,000 and the losing team will donate $150,000 to their selected organizations.

Team LeBron

Team Stephen

After-School All-Stars Los Angeles provides out-of-school services for more than 13,000 students across 52 schools, and Brotherhood Crusade works to support underserved youths in South Los Angeles through mentoring, education, health and wellness, and leadership programs.

After School All-Stars was founded in 1992 by Arnold Schwarzenegger. The organization’s mission is to keep children safe and help them succeed in school and in life. Every school day, students in low-income communities have access to free programs that offer academic support, enrichment opportunities, and health and fitness activities. Brotherhood Crusade has been working in the community for 50 years, improving the quality of life of low-income, underserved and disenfranchised individuals.

In a joint statement, the NBA and National Basketball Players Association (NBPA) revealed the revamped format in October. The new structure will mark the NBA’s first All-Star Game without a matchup between the Eastern Conference and the Western Conference.

The team captains were the players who received the most votes in each conference. The NBA now uses a draft-style system similar to those used by the NHL All-Star Game (2011–15) and the NFL Pro Bowl (2014–16) to select starters and reserves.

“I’m thrilled with what the players and the league have done to improve the All-Star Game, which has been a priority for all of us,” said NBPA president Chris Paul of the Houston Rockets. “We’re looking forward to putting on an entertaining show in L.A.”

The All-Star Game’s coaches are usually the head coaches whose teams have the best record in their respective conferences. The Golden State Warriors’ Steve Kerr and the Boston Celtics’ Brad Stevens are ineligible because they coached last year’s All-Star Game. The Houston Rockets’ Mike D’Antoni will coach Team Stephen, and Toronto Raptors coach Dwane Casey will coach Team LeBron.

The Next Chapter: Retired NBA player Mark Blount reinvented himself as a real estate investor From Auntie Anne’s to housing, the former center created a life after basketball

After spending 10 years in the NBA as one of the league’s most dependable centers, Mark Blount retired in 2010 and knew it was time to start making moves.

With Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, as his backdrop, Blount opted to spread his wings in two different endeavors: food franchises and real estate.

Blount found a block of property sorely in need of renovation and decided to invest. He participated in rehabbing 14 units, completing the process in about a year.

“I owned quite a bit of real estate in Palm Beach Gardens — seven buildings. I went in there with a friend of mine. We renovated them, all the units there, and brought them back up to, back then it was 2012 code: new bathrooms, new floors, new kitchens and all that stuff,” he said.

Blount then joined the soft-pretzel franchise Auntie Anne’s. He opened two stores in West Palm Beach and one in Jensen Beach, Florida. After building and operating the franchises for four years, he sold the stores to focus on real estate.

“The restaurant business was a learning curve for me, but the real estate is a passion for me,” Blount said.

Blount spends his days researching and meeting with sellers and agencies about new real estate investment opportunities. He lives in Fort Lauderdale and his philanthropic efforts are focused on Palm Beach Gardens, including donating turkeys to those in need throughout the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays and contributing to local churches and Toys for Tots.

The Yonkers, New York, native grew up a Knicks fan and was inspired by players such as John Starks and Charles Smith. He played collegiate basketball at the University of Pittsburgh before being drafted 54th overall in 1997 by the Seattle SuperSonics. Blount spent three seasons in the minor leagues, including the International Basketball League, Continental Basketball Association and North American Premier Basketball. He signed with the Celtics as a free agent on Aug. 1, 2000. That season he led the team with 76 blocks, the most by a Celtics rookie since Kevin McHale in 1980–81.

He also played with the Denver Nuggets, Minnesota Timberwolves and Miami Heat. He used his toughness on the court to guide his way into the business world.

“That’s why we see a lot of retired guys have a hard time trying to find something that they’re passionate about to do because [they don’t have] the energy and the passion, the focus that needs to be displayed every night. So you’re like, ‘What do I do now?’ ”

How did you cultivate your toughness?

I just had an attitude about everything. And growing up in Yonkers, I had to be tough there. I just approached everything with a straight attitude. I just thought whoever I was going against, it was just a battle.

Mark Blount #15 of the Miami Heat dunks the ball against the New Orleans Hornets on January 11, 2008 at the New Orleans Arena in New Orleans, Louisiana. The Hornets defeated the Heat 114-88.

Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Was the NBA a dream of yours?

Yes. Yes, it was. Getting drafted in the second round and then not playing with Seattle, then spending a couple years in the not so minor league, then being able to make it onto summer league team and having Boston sign in to a one-year deal was [the culmination of] my dream, so I didn’t back down. I just kept fighting and kept trying to reach my dream. I spent, I think it was sum of three years in the minors before I made it.

What has been the hardest part of your journey?

Trying to get to the university and then trying to get to the NBA and then doing those things and then being able to do a couple of businesses, it’s always a fight, always a struggle. There’s always a learning curve. … I’m real patient about what I need to do and learning about it, and once I understand it then I’m able to pursue it.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

I was in Boston … talking to a gentleman about the restaurant, and he’s like, ‘If you’re ever going to do a business, make sure you’re there to run it every day.’ I’ve taken that to heart over the last few years I’ve been in business.

How did you make that switch to franchise owner, and why did you choose Auntie Anne’s?

I was actually in bed with Auntie Anne’s and Cinnabon; I ran four restaurants at one time. Don’t ask me why, but I did. I was able to make connections with them and went through the process of learning their business and going through training and learning their sites and seeing if I was going to be a silent investor and have somebody run it for me, which wasn’t going to happen, or run it myself.

I ended up running it myself and was able to be pretty successful. [Of] the four locations that I had, the two of them I ended up closing, but they survived for about three or four years. Then two I sold.

What do you think about the Knicks now?

I’m crying inside. Especially now that Carmelo [Anthony] is gone and seeing, looks like another rebuilding process. So I’m just, I’m a New Yorker, I’m going to die a New Yorker, so that’s the way it goes. But I really hope they’re able to get some luck. They had some young guys step up and maybe a couple trays on the lottery draft, draft lottery picks. Hopefully it’ll happen.

What team should we start to watch after the All-Star Game?

Everybody’s just starting to mention Toronto. They started out on fire, so I knew they were going to be good early in the season. [Raptors head coach] Dwane Casey really understands what he’s doing there.

What advice would you give players who are transitioning from the court?

If you don’t have a passion for anything, maybe take a course, a quick course, in something. But if you don’t have a passion, there’s always different courses you can take, or there’s a lot of good things the NBA Players Association is doing. … Just talk to some of the older guys that played before. Talk to some of the guys who just retired and bounce things off instead of just running into any quick thing, business deals, with anybody.

Affordable solar power is coming to low-income minority neighborhoods Lower electric bills are the big attraction for financially stressed families

In the predominantly African-American neighborhood of Broadway Heights in San Diego, nearly half of the 192 homes have rooftop solar panels. Neighbor after neighbor talks about what they could now afford. They were paying $200 and $300 a month in electric bills. Now they’re paying zero to $50.

“Now I can get my air conditioner!” said Thresia Route, 62, an information technology administrator.

In Southern Homes and Gardens, an affordable townhouse cooperative in predominantly African-American Southeast Washington, 55 of 90 residences have rooftop solar panels. On-site manager Telana Felder calls solar “my best friend” to escape her former monthly bills of $150 to $200.

“Last month the bill was $4, then this month it was $14,” Felder said. “It was so low I said something was wrong, so I called. They said it was because I had credits from the solar.”

These are among the thousands of moderate- to low-income families and fixed-income retired seniors who are the vanguard in communities of color that are now enjoying solar power. Under a wide variety of state and federal policies and funding mechanisms, and under both nonprofit and for-profit business models, such families are changing the face of renewable energy, broadening the diversity of solar customers with respect to race and income.

For most families I interviewed on behalf of the Union of Concerned Scientists, the original attraction was less about getting away from fossil fuels than getting away from the high-energy bills associated with those dirty fuels. According to a 2016 report by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy and Energy Efficiency for All, households under $25,000 in median income have an “energy burden” more than triple that of households of at least $90,000 in median income. Energy burden is the percentage of income a family spends on energy.

The potential savings from solar are significant enough that improvements in quality of life are abundant and instantly come to mind in home after home, from funding college for children to creature comforts and consumer goods that wealthier families take for granted. In their own way, these residents appreciate solar with all the verve of eco-celebrities Johnny Depp, Julia Roberts and Leonardo DiCaprio.

In the affordable Latino and Hmong home-owner development of Little Long Cheng in Fresno, California, 35 of 42 homes have solar. Construction truck driver Jose Rodriguez, 52, and homemaker wife Arcelei, 50, said their $1,000 a year in savings from their 2009 rooftop system helped pay for a son’s education at Fresno State.

“I got my solar at a perfect time,” Jose Rodriguez said. “With the recession, my boss told me I could only work part time. I could keep putting my money toward education instead of the bills.”

In the Brownsville section of Brooklyn, Eric Pritchard, 64, said he was in his third month of solar power atop his home in the historic Nehemiah Houses. About 155 homes have contracted for solar in the affordable development, which was built in the 1980s. A collaboration of churches, community groups and the city worked out an unprecedented plan to sell homes for $43,000 with donated city land, tax abatements and below-market-rate mortgages.

Homes in the Latino and Hmong home-owner development of Little Long Cheng in Fresno, California

A former Wall Street back-office official who physically received and delivered millions of dollars of bonds to clients, Pritchard said, “I wanted to [go solar] 20, 30 years ago. I remember seeing the small panels on U.S. bases. I have a friend who is an engineer, and we’d talk about wind turbines out in the country. Solar you can have in your own backyard. It’s special that it’s in these homes. We’re actually pioneers for the second time in the same place.”

The likely current per capita champion of affordable solar is the New Orleans area, where post-Hurricane Katrina reconstruction has it atop an estimated 7,500 to 8,000 homes. In St. Bernard Parish, auto mechanic Vien Tran, 35, and wife Quynh Le, 29, a server at the famous Café DuMonde beignet coffee shop, said solar power and weatherizing of his home have sliced old bills of up to $300 a month down to about $200. The $100 a month in savings is big money in a household with an annual dual income of about $30,000.

“It goes to toys for the kids,” Tran said, holding one of his small boys. “Each one has their own iPad. I’m pretty sure he can use an iPad better than you.”

In Jefferson Parish, Diane LePree-Williams, a 66-year-old retired passport agency manager, said last December, “I love my little power plant. It’s the first Christmas in a long time where I actually spend on gifts for relatives.”

She rattled off things such as a Crock-Pot, a bubble-bath beauty set and a virtual reality game. “I couldn’t afford any of these things before.”

There are yet no national figures for the number of solar homes owned by working-class and other moderate white-collar and low-income residents. But there is growing evidence of a major class shift in states that now target renewable energy policies toward less affluent families. In Fresno, in the premier solar state of California, 70 percent of installations were in ZIP codes where the average household income is below $55,000, according to a study by Kevala Analytics.

Kevala said the trends indicate that “the market for solar is strongest among people where a 10 to 20 percent savings in their electricity costs is meaningful enough to drive investment in alternative electricity supplies.”

The potential of serving this market is immense. According to a 2015 report by George Washington University’s Solar Institute, rooftop solar on all low-income households could save those families up to a collective $23 billion a year, and its installation could spark nearly $19 billion in local economic activity. The institute said such activity could create 138,000 jobs, most of which could easily employ residents. The solar industry hit a new record of 260,000 jobs last year, according to the Solar Foundation, surpassing the 187,000 jobs that the Department of Energy says are in the oil and gas industry.

Various models have emerged to get solar panels atop homes where owners can’t shell out $10,000 or more for a typical home solar array. In Broadway Heights, Fresno and many other neighborhoods in California, the nonprofit GRID Alternatives is the program manager for the state’s Single-family Affordable Solar Homes program (SASH). Beginning in 2009, with a commitment of $108 million set aside from utility ratepayer funds, philanthropic gifts and in-kind donations from the solar industry, GRID has been identifying homes in communities largely under 80 percent of area median income to install rooftop solar at little or no cost.

A major component of GRID’s program is job training and community volunteering. At one installation site in San Diego, five Latino high school students carried panels across a backyard to hoist up to the technicians. Student Jason Olvera said, “My first choice is to join the military, but I may do this. It’s fun, and you get to help people out.”

In New Orleans and Brownsville, for-profit models are generating power and satisfaction. Both PosiGen in New Orleans and Level Solar in Brownsville bank on private investment, bolstered by either favorable state incentives or state green banks funded by utility bill fees. That allows for mass-purchased solar equipment to be installed on homes regardless of income and without credit checks. The homeowner pays back the cost of the installation through monthly lease payments, with money from savings on the utility bill.

The Southern Homes and Gardens townhouse community benefits from city-driven policies and programs. Washington, D.C., has some of the most aggressive renewable electricity goals in the country and a sustainable energy department funded by a surcharge on energy bills. Some of that money has been used to contract for more than 500 no-cost solar installations in the city’s poorest wards over the past four years.

In the process, solar is changing lives well beyond the pocketbook. In D.C., 21-year-old solar technician Ramo Herbert never considered college because of its cost. He went to a city office looking for a summer job two years ago, and the two choices were a sandwich shop or WDC Solar, an installation firm owned by former professional basketball player Mark Davis.

WDC Solar’s office was just four blocks from Herbert’s house. It opened a world to him that he has come to love — despite summer days of standing on black rooftops in the humid Washington summers.

“As a kid, I didn’t get on too many roller coasters or look over bridges,” Herbert said. “But on the roof, I felt like I was on top of the world. When I tell people what I do, they say, ‘For real? You really do that, lifting all those panels?’

“I remember one day in training, Mr. Davis said, ‘For anyone who is serious, I have a job for you.’ Then one day he told me, ‘You toughed it out. I have a job for you.’ I feel proud of what I’ve done.”

And residents are proud of what they have, with the help of organizations and companies like GRID Alternatives, PosiGen, Level Solar and WDC Solar, as well as the widening array of city and state policies along with federal tax credits that Congress, in a rare bipartisan move, extended through 2022.

In San Diego’s Broadway Heights, Robert Robinson, 68, the community council president and longtime city activist who helped prisoners readjust to society and organized gun buy-backs, led the effort to urge neighbors to take advantage of GRID Alternatives’ program. With 26 panels atop his ranch-style house and many other homes visibly adorned, Robinson said he wants Broadway Heights to be a public face of the solar revolution.

San Diego is the largest city in the United States that has committed to all renewable energy by 2035, and it has begun to designate some neighborhoods as “eco-districts” for their sustainability efforts. Robinson said he wants Broadway Heights to earn such a designation.

But in neighborhoods like his, the real attraction of solar is the lowering of the energy burden. Asked the most important thing that solar has done for him, he exclaimed, “I feel like I gave myself a raise!”

LeBron James Family Foundation and Akron Public Schools establish the I PROMISE School Innovative and family-centered education proposed for some of Akron’s lowest-performing students

The LeBron James Family Foundation (LJFF) will partner with Akron Public Schools (APS) and a committee of local leaders, educators, parents and experts to design an I PROMISE School (IPS), a new Akron public school.

“This school is so important to me because our vision is to create a place for the kids in Akron who need it most — those that could fall through the cracks if we don’t do something,” said James. “We’ve learned over the years what works and what motivates them, and now we can bring all of that together in one place, along with the right resources and experts. If we get to them early enough, we can hopefully keep them on the right track to a bigger and brighter future for themselves and their families.”

The LJFF is consistently working to find on-the-ground work and research-based interventions to help keep students in school and on track in their educations. The proposed vision for the I PROMISE School is an expansion of curriculum with a STEM, hands-on, problem-solving learning focus infused with LJFF’s “We Are Family” philosophy to create an innovative and supportive learning environment.

A committee will work over the next six months to determine how students will be selected for the school using multiple criteria. The targeted eligible population will be similar to LJFF’s current students: students who are at risk in reading and who are in need of additional academic intervention before falling further behind their peers.

There will also be an intentional effort to engage the entire family to create a supportive environment both in the classroom and at home. In addition, the University of Akron’s LeBron James Family Foundation College of Education is aligned to provide integrated curricular support, research and continuous assessment.

“We are excited about the potential of the I PROMISE School to provide specialized programming and invaluable resources for our students,” said David James, superintendent of Akron Public Schools. “We’ve seen the positive influence of the LeBron James Family Foundation on our students, and we look forward to continuing to do everything we can to put our students in a position to be successful.”

Once the planning committees complete their work, they will submit a master plan to the APS Board of Education for approval in October. If approved, the I PROMISE School would open its doors in the fall of 2018 with newly identified third- and fourth-grade classes while adding first and second grades the following year. By 2022, the school will be complete with first through eighth grades. Eligible students will be selected for IPS by a random lottery system.

Founded in 2004, the LeBron James Family Foundation’s mission is to positively affect the lives of children and young adults through education and co-curricular educational initiatives. Recognizing the life-changing importance of education, the foundation invests its time, resources and attention in the kids of James’ hometown in Akron, Ohio. Through its Wheels for Education and Akron I PROMISE Network programs, the foundation serves more than 1,100 Akron-area students by providing them with the programs, support and mentors they need for success in school and beyond.

In 2015, James partnered with the University of Akron to guarantee four-year college scholarships to all eligible students who graduate from high school and complete the criteria in the classroom and in the community.

Patriots’ Malcolm Mitchell is being honored for helping children learn to read Once he got to college, the wide receiver confronted his own problems with literacy

New England wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell caught six passes for 70 yards during the Patriots’ comeback 34-28 win over the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl XVI. But his rise from fourth-round draft pick to NFL standout does not compare to his perseverance overcoming his own problems with literacy and helping others who have similar struggles.

That’s why Mitchell, 23, will receive the Promise Hero Award from America’s Promise Alliance during its 20th Anniversary Summit and Gala in New York on Tuesday.

When Mitchell went to college at the University of Georgia, he quickly realized he struggled with reading. He knew he needed to do something, so he started from scratch, reading children’s books and teaching himself to read better and faster. He soon developed a passion for learning and literacy that ultimately changed his life. Recognizing the transformative effects of books in his own life, Mitchell launched Read with Malcolm, a youth literacy initiative dedicated to promoting the benefits of books to students in underserved communities.

A recent report by America’s Promise Alliance found that children and young people facing multiple adversities (such as poverty, abuse or neglect) are more likely to struggle in school and in many cases, drop out. According to the Read With Malcolm website, children with the lowest reading scores account for 65 percent of all children who do not graduate from high school. The most successful way to improve the reading achievement of low-income children is to increase their access to printed reading material because 61 percent of low-income families have no age-appropriate books in their homes.

“The only boundaries are those we create for ourselves” is a phrase often used by the Valdosta, Georgia, native. Mitchell spent the majority of his childhood in a single-parent household, where his older brother steered him away from poor decisions and his younger sister made sure he remained level-headed.

The organization’s goals are to introduce book ownership to students in households where reading is not a priority and to improve literacy in schools with grade-level reading skills that are below average.

Mitchell graduated in December 2015 with a degree in communications, was drafted by the Patriots last May and has now written a book, The Magician’s Hat. ​He recently opened up to The Undefeated about overcoming issues with literacy and why he wants to see children thrive.

How did you overcame some of your struggles with reading?

I knew I couldn’t read well when I was in school, but it wasn’t really that big of a deal. I was still able to pass classes and do what I needed until I got into college. I think it really became more evident when I got to college and I’d sit in a classroom with my peers and I’d hear how well and how effectively they would read. I knew I couldn’t do it on the same level.

Then when it really became a problem is when I started watching movies and I couldn’t read the caption before it left the screen. Or I would actually pick up the wrong item at the grocery store because I wasn’t reading the labels correctly. That’s when I decided I would need to do something to make that change. That’s not a good feeling.

I decided I would start reading more. I went online. Started looking up books. I heard a couple people that were successful mention books. I went into Barnes and Noble, picked up the books that they mentioned, turned to the first page, and I couldn’t read the words off the first page of those books that I was picking up.

I got discouraged, figured I’d just continue like the way I had been. But something that I talk about now is always striving to be the best you possibly can, not only in one area of life but every area possible. I started all the way over.

The next day, after sulking, I went and picked up children’s books and said, ‘I’ll teach myself the process of reading. I’ll teach myself the different writing forms, the different languages.’ You know nouns, pronouns, adjectives, where to place a comma, where to put a period. I start from square one and begin to become a better reader.

From that, it wasn’t always easy. But I figured if I practiced reading the same way I practice football, eventually I’ll be better in some ways. Maybe not perfect, but if I do something long enough I have to be better at it. That was the approach I took when I went to that Barnes and Noble and started from books like The Giving Tree.

What are you reading now?

Right now I’m reading, actually, a book on Colin Powell and The 33 Strategies of War. I can read more than one at a time now.

How did you come to start your youth literacy initiative?

When I was in college, we were always encouraged to do community outreach. I always gravitated toward kids. When I started my reading journey, I found out how reshaping my thought process and the way that I approach life, I wanted to share that. I started going to schools, elementary schools primarily, and I’d read children’s books to kids. From that, on my own I’d be able to create something that would be my own personal message that reading can change the world and change people’s lives. That’s how Reading with Malcolm was created. I would do it relentlessly throughout my time at UGA.

What’s been the hardest part of the entire journey?

Probably getting the book printed. Yeah, it’s a lot more to it than just putting words on a page. I found that out.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

Never give up.

Who or what inspired you most to take this step in your journey?

I would say my mom because as far back as I can remember she always encouraged me to do what was best. Don’t follow anybody. Lead. Especially if it doesn’t make sense. I always strive to be the best you possibly can, even if that means stepping outside of your comfort zone. Doing what’s necessary for you, what might not be perceived as being cool or something that most people would do. I think just that upbringing allowed me to be OK going in directions that some people might not think would be either cool or perceived as being something they should do.

What’s your mom’s name?

Pratina Woods

What are your goals moving forward with your organization?

My goal is to inspire every kid to pick up a book to read. To give themselves the opportunity to grow beyond anything they could’ve imagined for themselves. To empower them and show them that through reading you can truly accomplish anything that you set out for yourself.

The big problem that we see at Read with Malcolm is that kids, most kids, don’t have age-appropriate books in their homes, approximately, over 60 percent [of them]. Because of that, they never … it’s not their fault. They were just never granted the opportunity to know what the opportunities that reading would give them. But if we can continue to strive and push our message and go to places that everyone might not go or put books into the hands of kids, then we grant them the opportunity to make a change, to pull themselves out of any adverse situation that they’re in.

Are there any misconceptions about overcoming issues with literacy?

That’s a good question. We have read research that shows even conversation to a child at an early age will promote the better ability to read because their vocabulary will be increased. So, truthfully, baby talk isn’t a good thing.

What is your favorite children’s book?

The Giving Tree and Exclamation Mark. Those were the ones that impacted me and encouraged me to continue. Even those two encouraged me to write children’s books of my own because I wanted to be inspirational just like they are.

Do you have any favorite authors ?

My favorite author is actually … everybody loves J.K. Rowling, for the Harry Potter series. But I also love Robert Green. He writes books like The 33 Strategies of War. He brings in a big historic component to show how you can use influence to help position yourself to get where you want to be. Those two would be my favorite. Obviously, Harry Potter is iconic.

Where do you see your literacy advocacy going?

I hope to be somebody who can continue to write and motivate kids to pursue whatever goal they set for themselves. Somebody that writes to encourage kids to overcome adversity. I want to be more than a football player — even though one that keeps winning the Super Bowl, I hope, because it definitely does, it definitely gives you the platform bigger than if we didn’t.

I hope to still be playing football. Still to be encouraging kids to read. I still want to be writing and pushing the message that reading can truly change the world, any way I possibly can.

How do you feel about receiving the award from America’s Promise Alliance?

That just motivates me to continue going. To stay an extra hour, to visit an extra school. To Skype with one extra class. It’s just proof that the message is being heard not only locally, where I’m from, but nationwide. That’s the goal, to impact the lives of everyone through reading.

I think it’s really satisfying. We’re doing the best we can, and it’s being recognized. It’s something that I definitely appreciate it because … winning an award like this outside of football wasn’t something that I knew would be possible for me.

What would you change in your journey if anything?

Nothing. … Even though at the time it might have not been the best thing that I thought was happening to me, but honestly it put me in a position where I could do what I really love.

What kind of advice would you give to a kid who has some of the same struggles that you’ve had?

I would look him in the eye and tell him to never give up, to look at every day as an opportunity to be the best person he could possibly be and strive to do that. I would tell him in every adverse situation there’s an opportunity to do something great, because the truth is we all face adversity. Those who overcome it with relentless effort are those who give themselves the opportunity to do something, see something that others might have not had. I would encourage him to strive and wake up every day, try to be better than he was the day before, and to make sure when he looks into the mirror when he reaches, I don’t know, 50, that he can look back and say he gave it everything he had regardless of the outcome.

Bradley Beal and John Wall replace Bill Cosby on mural at Ben’s Chili Bowl Wizards teammates get their spot in the sun just in time for the NBA playoffs

After five years of former President Barack Obama, Chuck Brown, DJ Donnie Simpson and Bill Cosby greeting patrons in the form of a mural on the side of Ben’s Chili Bowl in Washington, D.C., the building received a temporary face-lift with the smiling images of Washington Wizards backcourt mates John Wall and Bradley Beal, just in time for the NBA playoffs.

The replacement mural, which was completed April 11, had been in the works since January, when Ben’s Chili Bowl let customers decide who would be next to grace the side of the building. Of the 60 celebrities, athletes, musicians, activists and actors the customers could choose from, Wall and Beal are a natural fit to represent D.C.

“I’ve been painted, but I’ve never had a painting on a big wall before,” Beal said.

“Whenever you’re riding down U Street, you look up, you’re gonna see those two guys as we head into these playoffs. We’re going to win and we’re going to win and we’re going to win at least a few rounds,” Kamal Ali, owner of Ben’s Chili Bowl, told CSN.

“It’s surreal to look up and you think about certain things and wonder how you got here,” Wall said at the mural’s unveiling last week, according to The Washington Informer. “It’s definitely an honor to be in a mural on the wall of Ben’s Chili Bowl in a landmark spot of D.C. It’s cool to see all the fans giving us this support.”

The mural, designed by D.C. high school teacher and photographer Robert Generette III, features Wall and Beal in the Wizards’ Stars and Stripes uniforms, smiling with their arms folded across their chests. The mural will be displayed until May.

The owner of the U Street landmark, which opened in 1958, decided it was time for a change to the mural, which featured a portrait of Cosby after he was accused of sexual assault by a number of women.

Peter Buffett reveals $90 million plan to help young women and girls of color in the U.S. The grant-making strategy will focus on highlighting everyday issues girls of color face

Peter Buffett, son of billionaire Warren Buffett, is taking a page from his father’s philanthropic playbook and using it to focus on girls and young women of color in the United States.

On April 13, Buffett and his wife, Jennifer, unveiled a seven-year, $90 million strategy through the couple’s NoVo Foundation, a philanthropy-based organization created in 2006 to catalyze a transformation in global society, that will “support efforts defined and driven by girls and women of color to address the deep systemic, societal, and institutional challenges girls face.” This strategy is the largest commitment ever made by a private foundation to address issues facing girls and young women of color, according to the press release.

“We believe that girls of color are experts in their own lives and wield immense power to transform their communities and the country,” Jennifer and Peter Buffett said in a statement.

“We are excited to partner directly with girls of color and their advocates so that they can live in safety and peace, dream and imagine all the possibilities of their futures, access all that’s necessary to live in dignity and fulfill their dreams, and feel celebrated and seen through love and connection.”

The idea to focus on girls of color originally rolled out last March. The Buffetts, along with NoVo Foundation representatives, spent the year talking to advocates, movement leaders and community organizers, and listening to the thoughts and concerns of girls of color across the country to get a better understanding of their needs. These conversations led to the grant-making strategy that primarily concentrates on building partnerships with existing groups for young women and girls of color. The strategy is set to provide flexible funding to community-based organizations; partner with regional grant-making, movement-building infrastructures; and invest in select national efforts dedicated to changing harmful narratives and shifting negative systems surrounding girls of color.

In November 2015, the White House Council on Women and Girls released a report, Advancing Equity for Women and Girls of Color, that took an in-depth look into the challenges women of color face in areas including education, work and family life. According to the statistics, black girls are suspended at higher rates in school (12 percent), and African-American girls are detained and committed at higher rates (32 percent) while representing only 14 percent of the U.S. population. Of the 73 million women in the U.S. labor force, 24.8 million are women of color. Black women face the highest rate of unemployment in longer periods compared with Latina, Asian and White women. Taking a look into the home lives of girls of color revealed that black and Latina girls are still more than twice as likely as white girls to become pregnant during adolescence, according to a study by the Pew Charitable Trusts.

Through research and conversations with young women and girls of color, representatives also learned that issues such as sexual violence, anti-black racism and solidarity building are often overlooked or receive little to no investment from philanthropic organizations. The NoVo Foundation is aiming to curb this trend.

Adidas, Shinola honor Jackie Robinson with style Items commemorate the 70th anniversary of No. 42 breaking the color barrier

April 15 marks the 70th anniversary of Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier in Major League Baseball, and two apparel lines have released commemorative items to celebrate.

Adidas created a series of special-edition baseball cleats and turf trainers that feature Robinson’s signature. The cleats and trainers sell for $120 and $100, respectively, and are available at, and

The company also built a new baseball and softball field at Robinson’s alma mater, John Muir High School in Pasadena, California. The school’s athletic facilities are also used by the community’s Little League teams.

Detroit-based watch company Shinola has released a limited-edition Jackie Robinson timepiece that features his famous “42” jersey number. The 42 mm stainless steel watch retails for $1,500 (available at and in Shinola stores) and is sold as part of a limited-edition gift set that includes a mini-pennant, a set of three pins and a four-pack of postcards. The watch is the fifth installment in Shinola’s Great Americans Series, which honors inspirational figures such as Maya Angelou and the Wright brothers.

Robinson is, of course, one of the most important race men to have ever played professional sports. Before Muhammad Ali, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Jim Brown, there was Jackie Robinson. After being signed to the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, Robinson shouldered the burden of being the first — and, for a time, only — African-American to play in the major leagues. Over the course of his outstanding 10-year career, he and other Negro players faced open hostility from teammates, fans and media.

To commemorate the 70th anniversary of Robinson’s signing with the Dodgers, the team is planning to unveil a statue of their most iconic star Saturday at Dodgers Stadium. Rachel Robinson, 94, and two of her children, Sharon and David, are expected to attend the ceremony along with nearly 200 friends and family members.

Raptors coach Dwane Casey and late, great Japanese basketball coach Mototaka Kohama were two of a kind Kohama and Casey had a long and fruitful friendship

It was perhaps an unlikely friendship.

Dwane Casey was the sixth black player to be a member of the University of Kentucky men’s basketball team. He grew up during the segregation era in the American South, witnessed Ku Klux Klan rallies in his hometown of Morganfield, Kentucky, and spent countless hours working in coal mines and tobacco fields during the summertime. Mototaka Kohama was a basketball coach from Akita, Japan. He grew up during World War II — and was told to stop pursuing basketball because it was an American sport.

The two crossed paths in 1979, when Kohama spent a year in Lexington in order to study the champion Wildcats’ basketball program. Casey was then a graduate assistant with the team and often spoke with Kohama about basketball concepts after practices.

When asked about what drew Casey to Kohama, one particular word came to mind.

“Empathy,” Casey said. “[He was] different than I am, and was an outsider. I was attracted to him from that standpoint. He just had a great personality. It was a friendship that ignited and was easy. The more he learned English, which he did, and the more I learned Japanese, which I didn’t, it became easier to communicate.”

Despite the language barrier, Casey and Kohama started hanging out off the court and found other ways to connect. One was their shared interest in Nat King Cole.

“We used to go dancing,” Casey said. “I was young and single. I’d take him out. He loved music. We’d go to the disco. He was such an easy guy to be around and hang out with.”

Casey invited Kohama for dinner with his grandparents, where they had fried chicken and mashed potatoes. “He was very comfortable in my little country town,” Casey said. “I’m sure he didn’t know what he ate, though.”

“The more he learned English, which he did, and the more I learned Japanese, which I didn’t, it became easier to communicate.”

Jerry McKamey, a childhood friend of Casey’s, wasn’t surprised to hear about his friend’s generosity of spirit.

“Even as a child, his manners were impeccable,” McKamey said. “He’s a very genuine and kind-hearted person. That’s who he has always been.”

Casey, having introduced Kohama to his home cooking, decided to make his friend feel at home as well, surprising Kohama by driving him 60 miles from Lexington to Louisville, Kentucky, to eat at a Benihana of Tokyo. When they arrived, Kohama broke the news to Casey: This was not authentic Japanese food.

“My heart just dropped,” Casey said. “It broke my heart.”

Their year together though, forged a friendship that lasted almost 40 years.

Casey built his coaching resume in the NCAA as an assistant coach at Western Kentucky. And then, while at Kentucky in the 1980s, he began visiting Japan regularly to assist with basketball programs and clinics overseas. In 1988, while working as an assistant coach at Kentucky, Casey mailed an envelope during the legal recruitment of Chris Mills, then a student-athlete at Los Angeles’ Fairfax High School.

An employee at Emery Worldwide claimed to have seen $1,000 in cash addressed to Mills’ father. The scandal resulted in Kentucky being placed on probation for three years for NCAA recruiting and academic violations and a five-year coaching ban for Casey. Casey sued Emery for $7 million and settled out of court for a seven-figure sum. The ban was rescinded, but Casey couldn’t land a coaching job after the scandal.

In 1989, Kohama called and asked Casey to come coach in Japan. “It was a lifeline,” Casey said.

While in Japan, Casey worked for the national team and was the head coach of two Japan Basketball League (JBL) teams: the Sekisui Chemical and Isuzu Motors Lynx. He discovered an appreciation for teaching the fundamentals of basketball to players who had different skill levels and size compared with players in the NCAA. Casey also reconnected with Kohama, who returned his friend’s Kentucky hospitality by introducing him to shabu shabu and by hanging out late at night at karaoke bars. Casey also came to appreciate why Kohama was known as the godfather of basketball in his country.

“He always had a vision,” Casey said, “of what he wanted basketball to be in Japan.”

Ed Odeven, a basketball writer for The Japan Times since 2006, remembers Kohama as someone who wanted to push the standard of basketball in Japan in the professional leagues and at the national team level. Kohama pushed for Japan to improve its youth development at the local level, with the purpose of giving Japanese players more of a chance to compete in the NCAA and NBA.

Kohama won seven titles in the JBL as the head coach of Isuzu. Odeven compares his resume to those of Casey Stengel and John Madden, coaches who were remembered for their sustained level of excellence.

“He was a great winner,” Odeven said. “He was demanding, but he knew how to win.”

“He just wanted basketball to be good in Japan. When you talked to him, you saw that shine through.”

Kohama was ultracompetitive as a head coach, recruiting the best available players from America and spending more than other teams in his pursuit of championships. If those tactics sometimes rubbed opposing coaches the wrong way, their impression of Kohama often changed when they met him in person, as it did for Bob Pierce, who coached 13 years in Japan.

“He just loved basketball and wanted everyone to succeed,” Pierce said. “I realized he wasn’t this evil genius who wanted to win all the time. He just wanted basketball to be good in Japan. When you talked to him, you saw that shine through.”

Casey played an integral role in turning Kohama’s vision into reality. It was Casey who placed a call to former New York Knicks first-round pick Kenny Walker in 1996 to persuade him to extend his basketball career in Japan with Isuzu. The team won the JBL championship and fondly recalls being coached by Kohama.

“He had a presence about him,” Walker said. “He was so revered. Whenever he walked in, it was like the president was walking in.”

Casey was also the assistant coach to Kohama for Japan’s men’s basketball team at the 1998 FIBA Basketball World Championships in Athens, Greece — the country’s first appearance in 31 years. Japan lost all three games in group play by 91 points, but Dan Weiss, a member of the team, remembers the impact Casey made.

“I saw a different approach,” Weiss said. “Japanese coaches get stuck in traditional basketball drills with passing and shooting that never relate to what you’re doing on the court. Dwane worked on a lot of rebounding drills, stepping in, screening out, things that we never did before he got there. He didn’t come in and try and change players as much as he made them more aware of what they could do.”

Casey has also helped groom local coaches in Japan. Toshi Sato, who coached the Hakuoh University women’s basketball team to the All Japan Intercollegiate Basketball Championship title last year and is currently head coach of the under-24 Japanese national team, credits Casey, with whom he worked in the JBL, for helping him with game preparation and improving his knowledge of defensive schemes.

“He’s my mentor,” Sato said. Sato has visited Casey at his various NBA stops, and the two remain close friends today.

In 1994, Casey returned to the United States, working as an assistant coach under George Karl with the NBA’s Seattle Supersonics. In 2005, he got his first head coaching job with the Minnesota Timberwolves, where he went 53-69 over two seasons. In 2011, Casey won an NBA championship as an assistant with the Dallas Mavericks, and he was hired as a head coach by the Toronto Raptors that summer. After two losing seasons, Casey led Toronto to four consecutive playoff appearances, including the franchise’s first Eastern Conference finals appearance last season, which earned him a three-year extension with the team.

And through all of this, Casey and Kohama have regularly communicated via email. Casey kept up his visits to Japan, including a honeymoon trip in 2006 with his wife, Brenda, where they met Kohama for dinner at a shabu shabu restaurant. Last summer, before flying to Rio de Janeiro to watch Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan compete for Team USA at the Summer Games, Casey booked a two-day trip to Japan and flew alone to see Kohama, who was battling cancer, for the first time in nine years.

“I knew from what everyone was telling me the end was coming,” Casey said. “It was a very difficult trip to go see him because I knew it was probably the last time I’d get to see him. He was very frail and had lost a lot of his strength.”

Still, Casey and Kohama, along with Sato, Odeven and Japanese basketball agent Toshinori Koga gathered for dinner on the first evening to reminisce. What Odeven saw was a special friendship that went beyond just a shared passion for basketball.

“Their friendship extended decades, across different countries, different continents and different stages of their lives,” Odeven said. “They took their careers seriously, but they had a shared sense of humor. They both realized that this is sports. This is supposed to be fun. It was a genuine friendship. I don’t think there was any bulls— involved. They just genuinely liked each other.”

On his second day in Japan, Casey and Kohama participated in a basketball clinic at Hakuoh University, where approximately 100 coaches from around the country attended to learn practice drills and receive a speech from Kohama. Before leaving, Casey had one last message for his dear friend.

“I said thank you,” Casey said. “Thank you for bringing me over here when I went through some things.”

Kohama died in January at the age of 84, but his passing does not mean the end of Casey’s relationship with basketball in Japan. He still plans on visiting regularly and would like to take his two kids, Justine and Zachary, to see Japan one day.

“It’s like going home for him,” McKamey said. “He is respectful and grateful for the hand they extended to him. … There’s a debt of gratitude.”

For Casey, his lifelong friendship with Kohama and the years he spent in Japan mean the world, literally.

“It was the hospitality, and just how people invited you in with warmth,” Casey said. “There’s always been a connection. I just felt at peace and at home among my friends in Japan.”