SANTA MONICA, CA – Dwight Powell totally understands the phrase: “To whom much is given, much is expected.” The Dallas Mavericks’ center is fully aware that people like himself who are blessed with extraordinary wealth and talent are expected to use those blessings to benefit others.
Thus, it comes as no surprise that through his tireless work in the Dallas/Fort Worth community, Powell is a finalist for the NBA Cares Community Assist Award, which will be handed out on Monday night at the NBA Awards Show (8 p.m., TNT).
Shaquille O’Neal will host the show, and some of the presenters include Tiffany Haddish, Samuel L. Jackson and Charles Barkley.
Just like he does on the basketball court, Powell approaches his work in the community with great fervor. He launches himself and signs up for community work as if he’s diving in the stands for a loose ball.
“It’s the best part of my job,” Powell said of his work off the court. “It’s one of the most important things I think you can do is find ways that you can give back to your community.
“I’ve said it a thousand times: There’s no NBA without the fans, there’s no Dirk Nowitzki, there’s no Dwight Powell, there’s no Devin Harris without the DFW community, the North Texas community or the NBA community globally. So, anything we can do to support them and give back, for that reason alone is enough. And then as a human being you understand that not everybody has the same opportunities and same luck that a lot of us have coming up. So, if we have the means to help it’s our responsibility to do so.”
Donnie Nelson, the president of basketball operations and general manager for the Mavs, acknowledged that Powell has a soft spot for those who are less fortunate.
“Dwight has a heart as big as all outdoors,” Nelson said. “He’s just an amazing person. He reminds me a lot of Dirk off the court.
“He’ll do anything, he loves kids – underprivileged. His personal experiences, I think, really put him in a position to just speak from the heart. Kids that go through tough times, they can look to him as a model, because he’s pretty much been through it all.”
While many pro athletes have gravitated away from wanting to be described as a role model, Powell welcomes that label. He wants kids to sit back and watch what he does, and then promptly go out and emulate it.
“I hope that’s what they see, because I think it’s important to reinforce to all these kids that nothing is out of their reach,” Powell said. “They may be in difficult situations, they may have had a rough start or bad luck, but there’s ways to fight out of harm, there’s ways to fight out of difficult situations.
“And the more that we as professional athletes and leaders in the community – whether that’s community centers and churches or whatever may be that can lend hands and hopefully clear those paths for those kids — I’m honored they look up to me. I just hope I can continue to set a good example.”
After his mother died of breast cancer in 2012, Powell helped ease the burden of families dealing with cancer so parents don’t have to choose between paying for treatment and taking care of themselves and family members. Powell hosted 120 survivors at “A Night of Hope” fundraiser and announced a $610,000 gift to the UT Southwestern Harold C. Simmons Comprehensive Cancer Center.
In conjunction with UT Southwestern, Dwight collaborated with hospital staff to create the Dwight Powell Children and Family Support Fund, which provides resources, guidance and education for patients and families coping with cancer. He also launched the Venture-Entrepreneurial Expedition program designed to teach students to think about business and life through an entrepreneurial lens.
Powell’s generosity comes as no surprise to Mavs guard J. J. Barea.
“He’s doing some great things in the community, and I know him,” Barea said. “He’s my guy on the court, I know him off the court, I know he cares about this stuff and he’s doing a great job of it.
“So yeah, he’s got a big chance of winning it. Hopefully he wins it and gets a little bit more motivation and he keeps doing stuff for the community.”
Barea is cut from the same cloth as Powell in that he won the NBA Cares Community Assist Award in October of 2017 for his vigorous work in helping citizens in his native Puerto Rico following the devastation caused by Hurricane Maria. For Barea, that selfless act on his part was a no-brainer.
“We’ve got the contacts to do it, so you’ve just got to use the contacts,” Barea said. “And here, you’ve got a big example. Dirk is a big example, so if you follow him and do a little bit of what he does you’ll be fine.
“The Mavericks do a great job, so I just go with them in whatever they need. If you’re a kid, you want the NBA guys to help you out.”
Powell stopped short of saying that it should be in each of the 450 NBA players’ contract that they go out and engage in the community where they work and also put some valuable time and money back into that community. When asked what motivates him to do exactly that, while some other players maybe don’t, Powell said:
“That’s sort of a tough question to answer, because it seems so obvious to me. It seems like that’s just what’s supposed to happen.
“I guess it goes back to my upbringing, the way I was raised and the values and morals my mom kind of set down for me. I don’t know why more guys don’t do it. I know a lot of guys do, but we should definitely have 450 of them out there doing everything they can.”
Powell certainly has done everything he can to become a mainstay in the DFW community. Whenever the Mavs ask him to speak at a certain community function or talk to kids at a summer camp, he gladly answers the bell.
“He’s right up there with Dirk,” proprietor Mark Cuban said. “That’s one of the beautiful reasons about bringing Dwight back for so long, because in the locker room and in the community, Dwight follows right in Dirk’s footsteps.
“He does so much that people don’t see and that he doesn’t talk about, so I’m really happy for him. I hope he wins.”
As well as folks in the community, Powell’s new teammates are also watching how he reaches out and navigates his way and becomes entrenched in the community. So said forward Justin Jackson, whom the Mavs acquired in a trade with the Sacramento Kings on Feb. 6.
“I think that’s awesome,” Jackson said of Powell being a finalist for the NBA Cares Community Assist Award. “He’s an awesome guy and an awesome basketball player, so I think he’s very deserving of all of that.
“Hopefully I can get to that point when it comes to the community.”
Powell reiterated that one of the most important moves he and others of his ilk can make is be a vital voice within the community.
“I find a lot of pleasure in it and it feels good to be able to help,” Powell said. “I know that if I was in a situation where I needed help and there was someone in my community that was able to help me and they did, I would be extremely grateful.
“So I’m just trying to make sure I see it from both sides.”
And while seeing it from both sides, winning this coveted award was not at all a goal when Powell freed up his time and money to help others in dire need.
“It’s an honor to be up for an award like that,” Powell said. “I think it’s great, but that’s not why I do the things I do and that’s not a motivating factor at all. It’s great to be on a list with some of those guys – some of the things they’ve done are amazing — but that doesn’t really change much for me.
“There’s a lot of work that still needs to be done, and a lot of things that I think a lot of guys on our team are trying to activate in the community. Seeing the smiles on the kids’ faces and helping families, that’s the reward. And that’s what’s important.”