NBA Great Kevin Johnson
Basketball star now famous for a different kind of assist
|Scholastic Kid Reporter Abi Robinson and NBA great Kevin Johnson. (Photo: Courtesy ABi Robinson)|
In Kevin Johnson’s extensive professional basketball career, he recorded 6,711 assists, most as a guard for the Phoenix Suns. But since he started St. Hope Academy in Sacramento, California, that number has increased tenfold.
St. Hope is an organization founded by the NBA great in his hometown. Its purpose is to help “revitalize inner-city communities through public education, civic leadership, economic development and the arts,” says Johnson.
Johnson, who is also known as KJ, started this organization as a way to give back to Oak Park, the inner-city community in Sacramento, where he grew up.
Johnson established St. Hope in 1989 as an after-school academy. Since that time, the organization has expanded. Today, its projects include renovating buildings, providing jobs through new businesses, and opening multiple charter schools. St. Hope serves more than 2,000 kids in Oak Park.
“I was one of the few kids in my neighborhood and my community to make it out of high school and to go to college,” Johnson told Scholastic News Online. “When I made it to the NBA, I felt like I had a responsibility to come back to my neighborhood and give back to my community, which was underserved.”
Johnson worked hard for all of his achievements. As an average-sized kid from an inner-city neighborhood, he didn’t have some of the same advantages that many NBA hopefuls have. He decided to take a step-by-step approach to achieving his dream.
“I set incremental goals...and once I achieved [one] of them, I went after another goal,” said Johnson.
That principle marked his career in basketball. At age 11, Johnson’s goal was to play on his middle school team. He achieved that goal. In high school, he set a new goal of becoming the captain of the team, which he went on to do.
When he enrolled at the University of California at Berkeley and playing on that team, his objective was to become team captain. Only after he had attained many goals in college—including notoriety as a PAC-10 player—did Johnson begin to think about the NBA. By the time Johnson was drafted into the NBA, he had earned a Bachelor’s degree from U.C. Berkeley and compiled a long list of accomplishments.
He used the same approach when planning St. Hope. What started as an after-school academy has now become a huge organization. St. Hope has so far spent more than $11 million dollars in the Oak Park community.
His inspiration for St. Hope came from his grandfather, George Peat, Johnson said. Peat was a sheet metal worker who taught Johnson about the importance of a good work ethic and strong character. He taught Johnson to be a positive role model for others.
His grandfather’s motto was “measure twice, cut once,” Johnson said. What he meant is that if you do something carefully, you do it right the first time. Johnson says his grandfather influenced him to give back to his community.
“He taught me how important it was to be a good neighbor and what I mean by a good neighbor is...helping anybody in need,” Johnson said.
Johnson has a long list of other heroes too. They include Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King Jr., and, as a group, teachers!
Like many of his heroes, Johnson has had to overcome difficulties to achieve success. One of the many challenges he has faced is racism.
When asked for an example of how racism had touched his life, Johnson tells about a woman in a store who asked him where he went to school. When he told her he was a graduate of U.C. Berkeley, he said she could not believe that he, as an African-American, could get into such a prestigious college.
“Sometimes people’s expectations—or their stereotypes—are very damaging and hurtful to people,” Johnson said. Hurtful words and low expectations from some people obviously did not stop him from becoming a star athlete, successful community leader, and inspirational leader.
Johnson’s advice to kids who want to help others is exactly that: “Help others.” He received that same advice from another of his heroes, John Wooden, the legendary basketball coach for the University of California, Los Angeles. Johnson asked Wooden for a few words to live by.
“My advice to students is that those are words to live by: Always help others,” Johnson said.
Today, the basketball great lives those simple words through the many ways in which St. Hope gives back to the community.
Kevin Johnson is a very inspiring person. Aside from making it into the NBA, he returned to his hometown and started a charity that has allowed many people to lead better lives.
So, after a spectacularly successful 13-year NBA career, what does Johnson want people to remember about him? Here’s a hint: It’s not career points, assists, or rebounds.
When asked what he wants his legacy to be, Johnson paused for a moment before answering. “I want to be remembered as someone who gave his life fighting for those who did not have a voice,” he said.
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Abigail Robinson is a member of the Scholastic Kids Press Corps.