When it comes to the life and legacy of the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., there are countless quotes of his that remain more relevant today than ever.
As I watched the Dallas Mavericks Basketball Academy hold its MLK Day Youth Basketball Camp on Monday morning, Dr. King’s message about unity and love came to mind.
On the surface, the quote reminds us of the power of love and togetherness. But it also reverberates a message of embracing our children and neighbors with servanthood, intentionality and purpose.
This is exactly what the Mavs Basketball Academy is doing with youth all across North Texas.
For nearly 30 years, the Mavs Academy has been committed to serving young hoopsters across the region with a variety of camps for boys and girls of all ages and skill sets.
When the global pandemic rocked the globe, staff coaches had to get innovative and creative to reach future ballers in a modern, digital age.
In a normal world, the Mavs Academy reaches thousands of young student-athletes at camps and clinics and locations throughout North Texas in any given year. It’s a complex operation that never stops, and over the last few years I’ve seen firsthand the impact the Mavs Academy has on the lives of so many young basketball players.
Now, in order to keep community health at the forefront, the Mavs Academy offers these same lessons virtually to students-athletes.
During MLK weekend, the Mavs Academy hosted two such camps and even through a computer screen, participants can feel the encouragement and enthusiasm ripple through the air to the beat of basketballs in living rooms and driveways all across the country.
Saturday’s camp was a free virtual clinic (dubbed the ‘Mavs Take Action! basketball clinic) with student-athletes logging on from Park South YMCA. Monday morning’s clinic was a free MLK Day Jr. NBA Hoop camp and included young student-athletes from organizations like the Greater Dallas Boys and Girls Club.
The hour-long sessions include a wide range of activities from proper stretching, to learning the famed Mavs Big Step drill, to jump training and shooting. Students log into virtual camp via a Zoom meeting and coaches are able to provide real-time feedback to the campers during the session.
Mavs Basketball Academy manager Ronard Patton said it’s especially important right now to reach these student-athletes in under-served and impoverished communities where they might lack the resources and encouragement to assist them both on and off the court.
“I feel like we’re put in positions for a reason,” Patton said. “One of the things that holds our kids back is exposure, which is something I didn’t get to see coming up as a basketball player. I know this is something a lot of inner-city kids don’t get to experience, and they probably stay 5 to 10 miles away from the Dallas Mavericks’ organization. I’m thankful that reaching these kids is at the forefront of everything our organization is doing right now.”
A few years ago, Patton was the head basketball coach at Dallas-based Adamson High School. He was intentional about changing the culture at the school and wanted to focus on winning inside of the classroom, on the court and in the community. The Mavericks took notice of his exceptional leadership and hired him to join the Mavs Academy staff.
“Ronard Patton, better known as Coach Patt, is extremely important to our Mavs Academy team and the Mavs organization,” said Ben Hunt, director of the Mavs Basketball Academy. “The way he carries himself, cares, and his passion for the game and giving back to the youth of Dallas-Fort Worth makes him very special. Ronard brings everything he has to everything we do and we feed off his enthusiasm and high energy. We are very fortunate to have him.”
Patton has flourished in his role with the Mavericks and remains a shining example of leadership for youth all across North Texas. He said as a Black man in America, he feels a sense of urgency – now, more than ever – to provide hope to children of all nationalities and skin color.
He also understands the impact that coaches can have on the lives of young people because he’s watched it firsthand in his own life. Patton said that his youth basketball coach, Kenneth Farr, was a great source of wisdom, leadership and love.
“Coach Farr changed the lives of so many kids in Nacogdoches,” Patton said. “He made sure we were cared for and gave us a platform to play basketball and stay safe. So he was the first person to show me what it really looked like to be involved with the community.”
Now, Patton is living out Dr. King’s and Coach Farr’s lessons as an adult.
Besides coaching youth with the Mavericks, Patton is now a stay-at-home teacher for his two children, Brycen and Kameron. He’s also husband to his wife, Lanisha, who is also an educator and impacting the lives of countless students. Together they try to navigate a new normal while also recognizing the important role they carry with young people and in their own household.
“For me, my foundation in Christ is everything,” Coach Patton shared. “Through the pandemic, people have been in a panic, but I haven’t had to feel that because for me, I know who my source is. My faith has been huge with me doing home school with my kids and sending my wife out every day because she’s still teaching from the classroom. I think I’ve learned to pay more attention to what I was neglecting.”
When asked what his children might grade him as a dad and at-home teacher, Patton couldn’t help but laugh.
“I would like to think maybe I’d get a solid B,” Patton said. “It would be better, but the thing is, I’m always there. And sometimes they likely need a solid break from me. My standards are so high, and I see everything they do now, so I’m always correcting it. I know they’d much rather be in the classroom with their friends and teachers, but we still try to have a good time at home.”
Meanwhile, Brycen and Kameron had much higher marks for their father. Kameron gave her dad “a 175-plus-plus-plus” because “he says yes to everything.” She also praised her father’s exceptional trampoline-jumping skills and “peanut butter sandwiches.” Older son Brycen also dished out equally high remarks about his dad, giving Patton an “A-plus-plus-plus” because “he’s the best dad ever and does anything I need.”
Coach Patton said transitioning to the “new normal” of the world was tough at first, but through consistency, he’s adjusted and evolved during the past year. He feels like children are the best source of inspiration because they remind us to be resilient, steadfast and adaptable when faced with odds.
When I reached Patton on a call, he was standing all alone on the Mavericks’ practice court at the American Airlines Center where he’d just led students through a virtual camp. I asked him if he ever sits back and reflects on the magnificent change in his life and the way he’s gone from a high school coach and teacher to now working with an NBA franchise.
Patton paused and gathered his thoughts and then had this to say: “I’m constantly having to pinch myself and remind myself that I’m really in this opportunity. I realize how many coaches would love to be in this spot. So when I walk into the arena and get a chance to see the floor where some of the best NBA players in the game compete, it’s always a wow moment.”
While basketball will always serve as a backdrop in his life, Patton said the Mavs Basketball Academy staff is even more intentional about promoting love of the game through joy and fun.
Patton, along with Hunt and coaches Brad Freeman and Kelli Robinson, want to focus on sharing leadership skills that will help the student-athletes be successful not only in sports, but in real life. It’s the kind of dream that was once envisioned by Dr. King for all children, and now is lived out in action by leaders like the Mavs Academy staff.
Coach Patton summed it up in one powerful sentence: “You can minister and love through anything you decide to do.”