Throw a 6-foot-10 NBA player in a room full of children with hardcover books, and organized chaos (and lots of laughter) is promised to ensue.

Dallas Mavs power forward Dwight Powell stepped away from the basketball court on Thursday afternoon to infuse children in the community with excitement for reading as the franchise launched its annual Mavs Reading Challenge at North Oak Cliff Public Library.

Despite all the great pick and rolls and highlight-worthy dunks we’ve seen from Powell over the years, he shines brightest in a room full of rambunctious kiddos who have no idea who he is.

“How did you even get famous?” one spunky preschooler asked Powell.

“I don’t even know if I’m famous per se,” Powell laughed back. “I just play a game that I love.”

The Mavs Reading Challenge, presented by Whataburger, is a 40-day program designed to improve reading literacy throughout North Texas and encourage the love of reading for kids of all ages. The Mavericks and Whataburger are challenging students (grades K-12) to read or be read to for a minimum of 20 minutes per day for 40 days.

All participants who log 20 minutes a day for at least 40 days will have the opportunity to receive the Whataburger Completion Certificate and a free meal from participating locations, as well as a Mavs swag bag.

Despite a heavy playing and travel schedule, Powell mustered plenty of enthusiasm to make the Mavs Reading Challenge a hit for the dozens of kids who attended.

“What do you want to be when you grow up?” one vibrant toddler asked Powell.

The native of Toronto explained how he wanted to be an architect as a child, but the game of basketball afforded him an education at Stanford and now a career.

He said his passion for designing buildings is still buried inside his heart and might emerge someday.

“I wanted to build stadiums and museums and art galleries,” Powell shared, “but then I fell in love with basketball, and that’s the dream I’ve been chasing ever since. Maybe someday we’ll come around to the first dream later.”

Powell has been a spokesman and proponent for reading initiatives since arriving with the Mavericks eight years and one month ago. He’s the longest-tenured player on the Mavs, and he’s never wavered from his commitment to the community.

That’s why Dallasite Amelia Barnes brought her two children, ages four and seven, to the Mavs Reading Timeout.

“We saw Dwight and Maxi Kleber at a prayer gathering during Black Lives Matter,” Barnes said. “They’re my favorite players, and I love Dwight’s humanity.”

She later said, “Representation is also important to my family because my husband’s parents are black and white and mixed race. So I want my kids to go places and be exposed to other people and leaders who look like them. I want them to see men besides their dad who look like them.”

Barnes shared that Powell’s determination to promote academics and reading is an essential platform that children need in the modern day.

In a world that sometimes wants to diminish the value of reading in favor of video games, she says it’s great to have an NBA standout stand firm in his dedication to books.

“I’m a therapist,” Barnes explained, “so I love that his preference is self-care, and he’s not ashamed of it. I love that the kids see that he plays a game professionally and he’s having fun, but he also takes time to care for his mental health and care about people. It further drives home what we try to do at home. I appreciate people who represent many things, such as Steph Curry returning to graduate. We must get back to where we promote the fullness of people, especially athletes, who excel in many areas. Dwight stands for so much and is a great example for young people.”

The Mavs Reading Timeout launch event was hosted by Dallas Mavs ambassador and game night emcee Chris Arnold, who was the perfect host, asking kids if they knew how to spell players’ names on the team and he cracked jokes the adults appreciated (did we mention how Mavs Reading Timeouts are really fun)?

Powell then read a book and all the children got to visit with him.

There’s lots of incentives to join the Mavs Reading Challenge. The top 20 young Mavs fans who read and log the most minutes will receive two tickets to a Mavs game, while the top reader will receive a mascot visit to his/her classroom, along with Mavs and Whataburger gear.

All the kids at Thursday’s launch event received a book called “Goodnight Basketball,” which follows a young boy who falls asleep with a basketball in his arms and captures the excitement of the game on the court. The Sports Illustrated children’s book is written by Michael Dahl and illustrated by Powell’s fellow countrywoman Udayana Lugo.

It was an enjoyable afternoon for everyone.

“I think we’re in a position in our job where it’s very clear how much we get supported by the community,” said Powell. “It’s clear that all of us, no matter our job, need each other, especially now, to live full and healthy lives. Any chance I have to give back, that’s something I definitely try to do.”

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