DALLAS – One-by-one, the youth waltzed into Conrad High School with a permanent grin spread across their face. They gently caressed their new black Mavs-branded shooting shirts and quietly sat along the metal bleachers, anticipating a day filled with hoops and dreams.
Moments later, Mavs Champ burst through the door, full of enthusiasm, fist pumps and doing his trademark silly antics.
It’s hard to gauge who laughs louder – the young people or the 25 police officers with the Police Athletic League (PAL), all decked out in bright red t-shirts, whistles and coaching attire.
“We’re really excited,” Dallas County sheriff’s deputy Prentice Richmond jokes. “We’re just a bunch of big kids, anyway.”
Deputy Richmond and his fellow law enforcement colleagues are here to partner up with the Dallas Mavericks for the fourth annual Mavs/PAL back-to-school basketball clinic.
The goal of the event is to build bridges between children and law enforcement officials through the love of basketball. There’s a heavy emphasis on leadership development and self-esteem building, utilizing sports to create common interest.
“You forget that they are police officers,” said Emily Luth, Dallas Mavs community relations coordinator. “It’s important for our community so the kids can connect with the person…it transforms the relationship and that is what we work hard to do.”
Many of the kids and police officers already know each other well. The youth come from Vickery Meadow, a microcosm of sorts tucked away in northeast Dallas, the streets full of diversity and life, a place where almost 100 languages are spoken.
Officials also say this pocket of Dallas boasts the highest crime rate in the area, making it especially vulnerable to the astonishing number of children, immigrants, and refugees in the area.
“For some of the kids, unfortunately, the first contact they have with police is negative,” said Dallas Police Sgt. Brad Deason, who oversees the PAL. “We want to give them positive contact with officers and let them know that we have a job to do, and we are police officers, but we still like to have fun.”
And fun they will have.
Mavs Basketball Academy coaches Ben Hunt and Ronard Patton jumpstart the basketball clinic with a high-energy “Big Step” drill designed to stress the importance of footwork, focus and fundamentals. It’s been used for over 20 years at Mavs Hoop Camps, and the children and police officers chant and amp up their energy as the drill progresses.
Next, they split into five stations with the police officers serving as coaches and the student-athletes rotate through various basketball drills.
Midway through the clinic, the youth receive a surprise appearance when Mavs guard/forward Antonius Cleveland walks through the door. Cleveland, who arrives to spend time with the future ballers, posed for selfies, dished out encouragement and provided the youth with words of wisdom during the leadership portion of the event.
“My advice to youth is watch the crowd you hang around,” Cleveland said. “If you have real friends, be accountable for one another.
“The No. 1 thing I’d say is just be a good person. Good things happen for good people. If you do that at the end of the day, you’ll be alright.”
Cleveland (6-6, 195) started all five games for the Mavericks’ Las Vegas Summer League team in 2019 and his impressive performance led to the Mavs signing him to a two-way contract. The Memphis native says he loves serving in the community and admits this is a unique event, one he thinks can greatly benefit children and police officers all over the country.
“Just to see (the police officers) getting out here to play basketball with (the youth) and enjoying their time together, it’s special,” Cleveland added.
At the conclusion of the Dallas Mavericks PAL clinic, every child received lunch and other goodies to take home. To cover the financial bases, local businesses like Smith Thompson Home Security, stepped in to provide the children with Mavs-branded shirts, backpacks, water bottles and more.
The branded-gear is something, organizers say, the youth can be proud to wear at school and in the community.
Officers involved tell us the bonding through basketball is making a difference.
“It’s all about love and trust for one another,” Deputy Richmond said. “It’s refreshing to see their smiles and for them to know people care about them.”
Deputy Richmond said he grew up in a similar environment as many of these children.
“We don’t get to see celebrities a lot and interact with police a lot,” he said. “There’s a lot of excitement here and it’s special to see the kids willing to participate and have fun with us.”
DALLAS MAVS AND DALLAS POLICE DEPARTMENT PARTNERSHIP
Throughout the year, the Mavs partner with the Dallas Police Department for various events programs, like the PAL program and the DPD’s You(th) Summer Jobs Program. The program is in partnership with Safer Dallas and is being fully supported via private funding, with AT&T and the Mark Cuban Foundation serving as its founding, primary sponsors.
At “Midnight Basketball” on July 16, the Mavs Street Team provided a pop-a-shot inflatable hoop for the youngsters and Mavs Champ made a surprise appearance. The youth then worked with police officers and other volunteers as they shared their love for basketball. The children also received free dinner, positive mentorship and lots of encouragement from Dallas police officers and PAL leaders.
“The Mavericks have always been there for us and we’ve done many activities together,” said Sgt. Deason, “and the kids always benefit from teaming up with the Mavericks. The Dallas Police Department can’t ask for a better partner than the Dallas Mavericks have been.”
ABOUT MAVS CARE:
The Mavericks’ organization is about basketball and much more, and it’s our hope to bridge our company, causes and vision with the community. Our commitment to supporting the community we call home remains as strong as ever. Throughout the year, the Dallas Mavericks players, coaches, and partners build a stronger community through our four core areas of focus: education, environment, health and wellness and military and first responder appreciation. This last season, we impacted the lives of over 55,000 DFW Metroplex individuals.
Through our community involvement, we worked alongside troops to pack healthy meals for hungry families in Dallas, built basketball courts for area organizations, donated winter coats and Thanksgiving dinner to those in need and partnered with the Dallas Police Department for programs and events that show love and support to youth. We provided scholarships for college, helped MFFLs be MAVS FIT, integrated S.T.E.M. and entrepreneurship programming in local school districts and much more. Visit Mavs.com/community to learn more.
NBA VOICES: BUILDING BRIDGES THROUGH BASKETBALL
The NBA family is using the power of basketball to break down barriers, bring people together and develop important bonds of trust between young people, mentors, community leaders & law enforcement.