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McKie providing a solid foundation for youngsters
by Marc Narducci / August 26, 2006

Money wasn’t just tight, it was nonexistent. When a person grows up in poverty, the warranty never expires on the feeling of frustration and despair, regardless of the millions earned later in life.

Los Angeles Lakers guard Aaron McKie knows the feeling, which is why he has always been dutiful in giving back to the community.

Known for his corkscrew jumper, his airtight defense and for being a positive influence in any locker room, McKie’s days as a player are fading, but his role as a humanitarian is about to hit is peak.

McKie recently announced the formation of the AM8 Foundation, a non-profit organization designed to help Philadelphia-area children reach their full potential through educational, recreation and community activities.

That’s a lot to offer youngsters and it comes from a person who formerly walked in their scuffled shoes.

“If people in positions of power understand what it is like to be poor, the needs of the people who can’t fight for themselves would be met,” McKie said.

Material-wise, McKie didn’t have much growing up, but there was no price on the guidance and love he received at Philadelphia’s Belfield Recreation Center, located about a free throw away from his back door.

“He basically lived at that rec center,” said Bill Ellerbee, McKie’s high school coach at Philadelphia’s Simon Gratz and former assistant coach of Temple the previous four years.

It was at Belfield where McKie learned so much, not only how to defend the pick and roll, but how to become a man.

“Aaron was lucky because he had the rec center,” said Ellerbee, who worked there while also coaching high school. “There were people around who wouldn’t let Aaron fail.”

One of the goals of the AM8 Foundation is to help complete a long-term renovation project at Belfied Rec Center along with the City of Philadelphia and other sponsors.

“I remember I was at that rec center every day,” McKie said. “I was not only taught about basketball, but respect for others and some things that people take for granted such as hygiene and how to eat correctly.”

So McKie not only wants to upgrade the basketball courts at the center, but he strives to set up structured educational and recreation programs. He also understands the importance of having somebody in his position to show the less fortunate youngsters that he truly cares about them.

“People say that poor people have an opportunity and that is a bunch of bull,” McKie said. “They don’t because everything has a price tag and we have to start with education.”

That is why he dreams of starting an after-school program that helps youngsters in math, reading, and to prepare for the SAT. Of course, he realizes that sports provides both a buffer and an incentive, so there will be games played, sandwiched around the educational opportunities.

McKie’s idea of being successful while growing up was to attend a college. He earned a scholarship to Temple and has far exceeded those early modest expectations. The NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year with Philadelphia when the 76ers went to the NBA Finals in 2001, he is now entering his 13th NBA season.

McKie, who turns 34 in October, is on the second year of a two-year deal with the Lakers and realizes that most of his career highlights are being viewed in the rearview mirror.

“I am at the tail end of my career and I will have a lot more time to dedicate to the foundation,” he said.

Quietly, he’s hoping that others hear of his work and lend a hand, not to mention a few dollars. It’s an overwhelming task to reach out to those in poverty, but if somebody doesn’t take that first step, then how are the youngsters ever to have any hope?

“Aaron understands without the help of some people his road would have been a lot more difficult and maybe there would have been obstacles that he wouldn’t have been able to climb over,” Ellerbee said. “He has to thank a lot of people and reaching back is his way of thanking.”

Life has come full circle for McKie. Many of the youngsters that he has helped in various past charitable endeavors are the children of people he grew up with. That means the poverty is being passed from generation to generation.

While others in his situation dream of reaching the NBA summit and emulating the Miami Heat by winning the league crown, McKie has a much different vision. Oh, he still has the fire in him to want to win a championship, it’s just that the flame also burns in a much different direction.

“If I have a youngster or two come up to me in 10-20 years and thank me for helping them in their lives, then it’s all worth it,” McKie said. “Youngsters have to know that they can be successful.”

There is no better example than the head of the AM8 Foundation.

Marc Narducci covers the NBA for the Philadelphia Inquirer and is a regular contributor to HoopsHype.com

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