It’s rare that the score of a basketball game at regional hoops powerhouse Christ the King High School means nothing to the players on the court, but they laced up their sneakers for reasons other than high-flying dunks or emphatic blocks on Saturday.
Professional athletes, award-winning rappers, ESPN personalities, actors and Power 105.1 radio DJs descended on the Middle Village school to take part in a charity basketball game to raise money for educational and religious programs, within the city and around the country.
Hosted by the Knowledge, Inspiration and Nurture through God Movement, a Christian male religious enrichment program, and Power is Industry, an artist management company, the Above the Rim Celebrity Basketball Challenge drew over 500 star struck fans to Christ the King.
Athletes such as former New York Jets linebacker Bart Scott and former St. John’s University basketball star Felipe Lopez played, while Charlotte Hornets guard Kemba Walker and Orlando Magic guard Tobias Harris served as coaches.
Hollis native Ja Rule joined Wale and Jadakiss as three world-famous rappers taking the court, while Michael Smith and Chris Broussard of ESPN represented the sports media network in the contest.
Sixty percent of the proceeds from the game went to the Eagle Academy Foundation, which operates five all-male college preparatory schools in the city and Newark, NJ, including the Eagle Academy for Young Men in St. Albans.
The remaining 40 percent of the proceeds went to the K.I.N.G. Movement.
Event organizer Ahmed Rodriguez, a community assistant at the Eagle Academy for Young Men school in the Bronx, said the event took nearly six months to plan but bringing awareness to the program and allowing the students to interact with the celebrities was well worth the hassle.
“These are people that they look up to and aspire to be,” Rodriguez said. “So them being here sends a great message that we have not forgotten you. We didn’t just go out there to make records and sign big contracts and forget about our community. This shows that they have not, especially Chris Broussard.”
Broussard, ESPN’s chief NBA reporter and the president of K.I.N.G., was mostly responsible for organizing the impressive guest list.
While initially surprised by how the event grew to include A-list celebrities, he believes that “once people saw the message, the education of inner city boys,” people had no problem clearing their schedules.
“We thought it would just be members of K.I.N.G. playing against Power 105 DJ’s,” Broussard said. “It’s great to get NBA players, NFL players and former players out to support this. I’m ecstatic.”
Michael Smith, Broussard’s award-winning colleague and close friend, said coming to support the Eagle Academy and K.I.N.G. was a no-brainer.
“More than his work, I’ve always admired the man that he is,” Smith said. “Anytime you can invest in foundations or organizations that are making an impact on the community, especially as it relates with the youth, it’s a positive.”
Ja Rule agreed with Smith, saying clearing his schedule was easy when he was asked to appear at a charity event in his home borough.
“It’s a great event and it’s doing a lot for the community. Anything I can do to help, I’ll be here,” Ja Rule said. “I, myself, came from that struggle so it’s always good to give back.”
In addition to raising money, many of the celebrities happily signed autographs and took pictures for the throngs of people clamoring for a glimpse of their favorite artist or ball player.
Born and raised in the Bronx, Kemba Walker, regarded as arguably the greatest basketball player ever to don a University of Connecticut jersey, said he happily takes part in such events because he wants to provide today’s youth with opportunities he wasn’t given a child.
“I was just like these kids one day. For me to show my face and to put smiles on other people’s face is pretty cool,” Walker said. “I didn’t really have anyone to do this for me, so I feel like it’s my duty to do things like this and to give back to the community.”
Rodriguez said the funds raised for the Eagle Academy Foundation would go to youth programs and scholarships while Broussard said K.I.N.G. will put the money towards hiring staff and expanding existing programs.