By Michael Kinney
NEW YORK – When Trae Young saw the turnout, he couldn’t believe it. In his first-ever community event since being drafted and traded to the Atlanta Hawks in June’s NBA draft, the former Oklahoma Sooner was stunned by the crowd in his hometown.
He held a back-to-school giveaway at the Westwood Water Park in Norman on Aug. 1, an event made possible by Young, his family, friends and associates. They thought they had brought more than enough freebies for the children, many of whom were given free entrance into the water park. But their estimates were way off.
“We gave away 500 backpacks and we needed 2,000,” Young said. “It was crazy. It was sold out to max capacity. It was something unreal. Next year, I’m going to do something even bigger. It’s just crazy. It’s just crazy.”
Even though he has been coming to Westwood Water Park since he was a toddler, he said he doesn’t remember ever seeing that many people there. It was an overwhelming feeling.
That excitement is something he wants to create more often. But sports agent and attorney Kelli Masters said she doesn’t advise athletes to jump right into charitable work.
Young said he is determined to be involved with his hometown community in Oklahoma as well as the one in his new home of Atlanta.
“I wanted to give back to my community immediately,” Young said. “Going back to my roots and going back to Oklahoma. There are some things coming up that I’m about to do here, in the near future, even more in the Norman community.”
Young now has the money to put his plans into action. In July he signed his rookie contract that will earn him more than $15 million over the first three years of the deal. He also has several endorsement deals, including a sneaker and apparel deal with Adidas.
What once was a landscape with a scattering of pros known for generosity and charity, professional athletic culture has been transformed by philanthropy. Young said he’s ready to join those who want to do more than just cash a check; he said he wants his brand to also be a philanthropic one.
Often that means creating a foundation or charity, which is the direction Young says he wants to head. He has already pinpointed areas he wants to make a difference in. He’s big on church.
“I had two grandparents who were pastors, so just giving back to church, giving back to my grandparents’ church, giving back to churches all around the country, is something I’m looking forward to doing,” Young said.
Masters, who owns KMM Sports and does not represent Young, said it takes time, effort and commitment to set up and run a foundation correctly. He’ll need a great board of directors. And depending on his goals, he might also need experienced staffers too.
“Forming a foundation is not necessarily the best first step,” she said. “It’s something that can be done down the road when the athlete has the time, the resources and the people.”
While Young said he does intend to start a foundation, it doesn’t look like he is diving in head-first, yet. He is making baby steps toward it, though.
Just in the past three weeks, Young held his backpack giveaway and hosted the Trae Young Basketball ProCamp Aug. 1-2 at the University of Oklahoma, as well taking part in the National Basketball Players Association Camp in New York.
Dan Gladstone, a senior vice president with the NBPA, said players like to provide camps for kids because it’s a reminder of where they started.
“Players enjoy coming to camps because when they were younger, they were in camps as well,” Gladstone said. “They relate to these young kids. It reminds them of what they went through, the journey they were on to make it to the highest level. I think they like to share those experiences.”
Young can relate. His introduction to philanthropic pro athletes was also at a basketball camp.
“I remember going to Blake Griffin’s camp when I was a kid. I think there’s an old picture of me and Blake on there, on social media somewhere, where he’s holding my head. I was so small,” Young said. “I remember him talking at our camp, he was talking about a lot of people don’t ever get the opportunity to come out of Oklahoma and play at the highest levels. So I remember him talking about how you can do good things coming out of Oklahoma.
“That was very inspirational to me,” Young said. “I wanted to do something special, and luckily, I did.”
But whether it’s holding camps, creating charities or building foundations, there are still dangers for any celebrity who attaches his or her name to a cause and money is involved. Several former professional athletes, such as Baron Davis, Alex Rodriguez, Randy Moss and Lamar Odom, have been caught up in scandals involving charities.
Masters said athletes, in general, have the heart to give back. They’re not trying to make mistakes.
“They just may not have the right people around them,” she said. “And maybe the people are well-intentioned. Maybe it’s family members that believe in them and share their vision. But they really have no experience with nonprofit organizations. They don’t understand all the laws and regulations that apply. There is just so much involved.”
Masters said it’s better when the philanthropist has enough money to fund the foundation or charity and not rely on sponsors or donations. Despite his multimillion-dollar contract, Young is not at that point yet.
Whichever direction Young decides to go in these first few years of his NBA career, he said by the time he is done playing, he wants to be known for what he does on the court and off.
“I want people to remember and think of me as someone who is more than just basketball, just someone who likes to shoot threes and pass the ball,” Young said. “Someone who is big on community, big on family, big into my faith – just someone who is different. I want to be someone who you don’t see a lot of. And hope I change the community and make more people like me who want to give back and make it about others before themselves.”
Story first ran in the Journal Record
Michael Kinney is a Freelance Writer with EyeAmTruth.com