I don’t know if it’s just me, but I could always tell what type of person someone is by the way they play basketball. The loud, boisterous ones always yelling at the refs like Rasheed Wallace were the ones I knew would be unstoppable in a Royal Rumble match. The aggressors on the glass, and those diving for loose balls were the ones who didn’t have a problem doing the dirty work. And the ones with grace and elegance were the laid back sly cats.
Allan Houston’s game always reflected the last sentiment. Watching number 20 weave his way through screens and pulling the trigger on his velvety-smooth jump shot was something to marvel at during his iconic Knick days. He never taunted his opponents after unleashing an array of threes in his grill. No, he just got back on the other end to worry about his defensive assignment.
Watching Allan Houston conduct his Father Knows Best Program at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn this past Saturday, I was able to see him in the flesh. This wasn’t Allan Houston the ballplayer or Allan Houston the Knicks’ front office rep. This was Allan Houston the father, the son and the community leader.
As Houston conducted his festivities, catered to bringing inner city families closer together, he orchestrated a myriad of drills for kids who knew the name of Houston, but unlike old folks like myself, weren’t familiar with his game. He donned his blue Knicks shorts and waved admirably to his supporters, promising a beautiful day.
Kids flooded the courts with energy. Whether it was showing off their Vinsanity-like bungees in the dunk contest or being able to showcase their ferocious defense during intense 3-on-3 games, fun was ubiquitously disseminated through the gymnasium. While some would label this as simply a basketball clinic or an indoor block party, the message Houston was trying to convey was way deeper.
“Basketball is a tool,” he said. “It can be used to get a lot of people out of unfortunate situations. The same way as music and art does. For us, we’re using basketball to paint a bigger picture. That bigger picture is letting people know that there are men who are fathers, coaches and teachers that (are) really trying to be out there for their kids. Statistics and public perceptions suggest that they’re not. So, our message is not enough just to be there for your kids,” he said.
As he spoke, I realized how much he and I have both aged. I was just a kid when I began emulating Houston’s moves on my adversaries, pretending every foe I encountered was a member of the Heat. The grays and wrinkles were visible on his face but the drive and passion he had not only for the game but life was still within his eyes. He’s not playing against the Reggies or the Kobes anymore. He’s playing against the world’s biggest challenger: life.
“My father was there for me as a coach and as a mentor,” Houston said. “I’ve learned certain principals – life principals and skills – from playing for him that I felt like we had to share. Our goal is to tell the men and tell the families that the power and presence in their lives is to train them to be what God chose them to be.”
Being an active leader under God’s wing is the biggest challenge Houston faces. Not unfazed by the hindrances, he’s actively pushing his Father Knows Best Program to Manhattan, Staten Island and just recently, Brooklyn.
With a soul and mind as clear as Avion water, he hopes his son, Allan Ray Houston III, can lead by example and become comfortable under his own skin. And with a father-son relationship that mirrors Denzel Washington and Ray Allen in Spike Lee’s renowned flick, He Got Game, Houston says he’s less demanding and more understanding when approaching his son on basketball.
“I have had struggles earlier on when I was naming him and giving him the third because I didn’t want him to go through situations where he felt he had pressure to live up to his name,” Houston said, smiling as he watched his son sit down across from us. “But now, I have peace knowing that it’s not about how good he is in a sport. His name should hold more weight than his skill. His name should be who he’s representing – his identity. He’s a young man who loves God and who has character.
“I asked him the other day, ‘Where do you see yourself?’ Because some kids would say, ‘I wanna be the next Kobe. I wanna be this.’ He said, ‘I just wanna be the best I can be at whatever I do.’ What else do I need?”
As kids continued to launch their final attempts, people began cleaning up and slowly evacuating through the doors. The music faded and the dancers who had paraded through the court with their best renditions of “The Dougie” returned to their normal selves.
Fans rallied around Houston as he posed for pictures and ornamented their t-shirts with his John Hancock. The 2-time All-Star and former Gold Medalist who saved the city of Gotham with his legendary teardrop against Miami in a memorable Game 5 back in ’99 served as their hero… not as a Knick, but by being a man.