Dwight Powell had a candid conversation with the media Thursday after being named a recipient of the NBA Cares 2019-20 End-of-Season Community Assist Award, which was presented by Kaiser Permanente.
The award recognizes players whose exemplary work advanced social justice and provided COVID-19 relief and support, reflecting the long-standing passion of NBA players to give back to their communities while also standing up for the principles of equality, inclusion and diversity.
A center/forward for the Dallas Mavericks, Powell was one of five players chosen for the prestigious award. The others were Sacramento’s Harrison Barnes, Oklahoma City’s Chris Paul, Boston’s Jaylen Brown and Milwaukee’s George Hill.
Each player received a $10,000 donation from the NBA and Kaiser Permanente for the charity of their choice. Powell will put his donation toward the Dwight Powell Children and Family Support Fund.
Here’s the interview Powell conducted on Thursday.
Question: What would you tell youths and young adults who want to use their voice, but may not feel like they can make an impact?
Powell: What I would say to them is lead by example. To be a leader in your community starts in your household, starts with your siblings, starts in your classrooms. You don’t have to try to hit a home run every time you step up to the plate and I think for all of us, it’s important to remember that every little thing matters – a lot of times, even more than some of the big things. Any impact you can make, any example you can set, if you keep up with it every single day and keep that at [the] top of mind as far as being a good citizen and motivating others to be good citizens, you are making a difference.
Q: What are your overall thoughts on what this award means to you, and do you have any stories from any cancer patients in the DFW area that have impacted you?
Powell: To your first question, it’s obviously a huge honor. It’s humbling to be recognized in a manner like this for something that is very near and dear to my heart, personally, kind of on the national stage with the league and to be in the same breath as those guys who have done such an amazing job in their communities and the country. It’s a big honor and it’s very humbling so I’m very grateful to be recognized but also understand that that’s not my, or any of the other guys’, motivation as far as why we do the things that we do in our day-to-day lives outside of the gym. I think it’s great to be recognized but it’s just something that hopefully will push others and motivate others to continue to do what they’re doing and want to set that example for the next generations to come and for our peers around us.
As far as a story (from a cancer patient), let’s see – I think the thing for me is obviously it’s something that’s very close to my heart and all of the families that I’ve spoken with and all of the kids that I’ve spoken with have a very special and personal place in my mind and in my heart and I’m very grateful to be in a position to offer them help and offer them information and things of that nature. As far as stories are concerned, I don’t know if I want to divulge any personal stuff about our guys and our kids and our families but there have been some situations that have been very similar to the things I experienced and it’s a little bit of an eerie feeling to watch someone have to go through what I know is going to come next and trying to prepare them for that is very difficult.
But time and time again, I’m impressed with the resilience of a lot of these kids and the strength that they have and their ability to lean on the family that they do have and the peers that they do have – whether it’s the mentors at the hospital or their coaches or the teachers or whatever it may be – they find ways to move forward and to continue to be healthy and to continue to be contributing members of society and I think that they’re better off for having the opportunity to do that. It’s hard to try to communicate that to them in those moments but I cherish every single time that a few months down the line, you hear a positive story [or] a happy story after the fact. That means the world to me.
Q: Can you shed some light on the role you played in helping the National Basketball Players Association work with the NBA in making the bubble in Orlando a success?
Powell: First and foremost, I have to mention that as much as it may seem like a well-oiled machine at this stage, a lot of time and effort by a lot of people was sacrificed to make the bubble what it is today and to have the success that it’s had – I mean, knock on wood, with no positive cases for any players, that’s the metric for success – to be able to have that competitive balance without guys having to miss games and to be able to put out a great product and have guys competing at the highest level. That was the goal and it was not easy to set up the infrastructure and lay the groundwork for that to be possible. Through the process of talking with those guys on those calls, I really got to see just how many people were involved and how many minds were working in overdrive to find solutions to problems that were really coming up every day.
Every single step of the process had to be thought out because it’s people’s lives that were at stake at the end of the day. We’re athletes and we’re entertainers and we’re trying to put out a product that people can enjoy but there are also a bunch of people in that bubble that are not basketball players or entertainers whose lives are just as valuable as ours, so we had to find ways to make sure that everyone was safe and able to go back to their families at the end of the day and know that the elders in their home or their children or wives or husbands are safe. That biggest thing is – I think more than people realize – a lot of people were working around the clock to find solutions to a lot of these issues, especially early on when there was a lot of uncertainty not only around the virus itself but around what our plan was going to be. My role was really just to give my opinion where it was asked and to give a player’s perspective on certain things and that was a little bit unique in the fact that I was injured so I could offer a unique perspective from that side. At the end of the day, there were valuable discussions for everyone involved.
To be able to see behind the curtain and realize how things operate, especially in a time like this where there’s such a high level of urgency and laser-focus to get everything just right, I think I have a whole new appreciation for the business side and the logistics side and the scheduling side of this league and how hard they work and how talented they are to allow us to put a product out like we have here in the bubble this year.
Q: How have you continued to be involved in social justice efforts in Dallas since returning home from Orlando?
Powell: Well, firstly, the concept of racial justice reform and racial injustice in this country is – it’s a slow process and it takes a lot of time and arduous labor over generations, I believe. I think what we were able to accomplish, to a certain extent in this time that we had this year, was setting some things in motion that are going to have to be maintained and kept up with over the course of really, the rest of our careers and potentially our lives in our own ways. Saying that, one of the things that we’ve done since coming back is coach (Rick) Carlisle, (assistant) coach (Stephen) Silas, (assistant) coach (Jamahl) Mosley and I have partnered with Mothers Against Police Brutality here in Dallas and we’ve had several conversations with the city manager here in Dallas, with the mayor, with the chief of police, with the deputy chief of police about ways that we can help, ways that we can use our fan base to motivate change, to put pressure in places to help bring change and to be more effective in those arenas – and also to give our opinion on the things that we see and reaching out to our community in the things that are affecting us and how we want to see those things change in the future. A lot has happened during the last, obviously, six months on that front. I think Dallas is very close to having all of the “8 Can’t Wait” police reform legislation changes. That takes time to come into effect. Tangible change takes time, especially with an institution like a police force in a city. But the wheels are in motion and pressure is being constantly applied and we’re keeping up with that as well as we can. It comes down to just staying with it and that’s what we’re trying to do.
Q: Was there a major learning process in educating a team with many foreign players on the importance of voting in America, along with having other social conversations?
Powell: Absolutely. Coach Carlisle did a great job from day one in the bubble of making sure we didn’t forget a lot of the issues that were going on in the community around us outside of the game of basketball and outside the landscape of the pandemic – racial justice, specifically. We spent, I would say, five to 10 minutes every single day – first thing we would do would be to talk about an event that took place on that day at some point in history in the United States, as far as whether it was based on inequality, based on race or religion or gender, things to do with civil rights, milestones both good and bad – and just a bunch of the history, we kind of laid out for the time that we were in the bubble. We had some very powerful conversations about that.
Obviously, one of the big topics is the right to vote and then exercising that right. I think, in order to educate ourselves fully on why it’s important to vote, it goes back to times when we were not able to vote: when people of color were not able to vote, when women were not able to vote, when it was so difficult to vote even if you could that it was rarely done and things of that nature. The reasons why and the events that took place along the historical timeline that lead up to where we are now, I think coach [Carlisle] did a great job of helping us emphasize why and the potential futures of not exercising that right and the negative implications of not using our voice and not voting and not participating in the system, you know what I mean? We’re all living in this country, whether we’re able to vote or not, and we will feel the repercussions on whatever takes place next. So, in spite of the fact that we can’t put our name and our checkmark beside the candidate that we choose, we still have a responsibility to educate ourselves first and foremost – both with what’s going on politically and with the history of voting and civil rights in general – but then also pass that along to these young fans and people in our community that look up to us and may have questions that need answering.
Q: You had surgery on your torn right Achilles tendon on Jan. 28. Can you give us an update on your rehab?
Powell: Rehab is going well. I would say everything is on schedule, but now it’s kind of a moot point. We don’t really know when we’re going to get going again. I’m feeling good. I don’t have any limitations as far as movements are concerned. If we were able to play pick-up right now at the facility, I would, but I’m doing what I can to get those simulated movements. Everything is going good on that front.
Q: How difficult is it for you and your teammates not knowing when next will start?
Powell: It’s pretty difficult right now but I think, to an extent, it’s going to get a little bit more tricky probably in the weeks to come. I know we all kind of have a frame of reference for a period of the offseason while people are playing – so while we’re still able to tune into the Finals and watch guys compete, I think we can focus on [next season] a little bit – but once everyone is in the offseason, I think it’s going to get a little more tricky as far as planning how you want to ramp things up and for those guys, how they want to recover and ramp back up as well. At the end of the day, we’re just doing everything we can to develop our games and stay ready because I’m sure we’ll have some headway as to when the season will start – we’ll know in enough advance that we can prepare in a safe way. Right now, it’s all about any small nicks or bruises from last season, taking care of those, and just developing the best you can to help our team for next year.”
Q: For you, how did growing up in Canada influence the deep compassion that you have for others?
Powell: It was a major, major factor in, really, my outlook on people in general. I grew up in Toronto. I was born downtown and raised in North York, so I was raised in a very, very diverse setting from the moment I was born – and diverse in terms of race, in terms of religion, in terms of sexual orientation and in terms of anything you could think of. Toronto has a major mix of everything that you can find around the world. My friends growing up, I never had a group of friends that were all the same race or were all the same religion so I was able to interact with everyone just as they were. I didn’t grow up with too many preconceived notions and I think the old adage of ‘make sure you try to put yourself in someone else’s shoes every day,’ I think that was a lot easier for me to do having seen so many different types of shoes growing up and different ways to live and different ways to express yourself and express your love for life. I feel very blessed and very fortunate to have been able to grow up in a community that was so diverse and to be exposed to so many different cultures at a young age. That’s definitely had a major impact on my life and my outlook on people.
Q: Tell us about the impact owner Mark Cuban has on encouraging people to vote and the significance of American Airlines Center being the largest polling place in Dallas county?
Powell: It’s huge. Mark, he’s been one of those owners, since before I even got here, obviously his name precedes him, but from day one I got here, he’s had our backs regardless in whatever endeavor we had. Anything we are truly passionate about he would find a way to help and find a way to support us. Now I think especially with the state of the world, really the state of country during the last six months, he’s really extended that to everyone. And I think the most important call to action is to vote and is to participate in that political process. So he’s doing whatever he can to get information out to motivate people to vote, to motivate others to use their voices to motivate others to vote. And I think a big part of that is using our arena to register to vote. That’s huge. And it doesn’t stop there. There’s a long list of ways Mark has supported our community and I could ramble on for hours about that. And not just through his donor acts, but through supporting ours. A big part of my ability to sit here and thank you all for congratulating me is the hand he’s played in teaching me along the way on how to hold myself in the community and how to interact. And also supporting me and just educating me. So he’s done a great job.
Q: What does the Black Lives Matter movement entail in the eyes of NBA players?
Powell: So the ‘Black Lives Matter’ written on the court simply means that. As far as I know, we’re not affiliated specifically with any organization or whatever it may be. The phrase ‘Black Lives Matter’ simply means that we believe Black lives matter. We believe that’s something that’s important. I don’t understand how there can be any pushback to that statement in and of itself. Now, tying organizations to it and their history or whatever it may be is another story. But I know for a fact the players in this locker room that have ‘Black Lives Matter’ on their shirts when they’re warming up and stand on that court proud, what they mean by that statement is that equality is the most important thing in terms of our society and social justice and having a fair community to live in.
We believe, as a very diverse team of people from other countries and other walks of life, that it’s a blessing to be in this country – it really is. It’s a beautiful place to live, to raise your family, to work. But that gets tainted when opportunities are not provided to everyone at the same level. So in this specific instance, the focus that we’ve had is on Black lives not being treated with the same level of value as other lives. And that’s been shown in some of the lives we’ve lost over the last several months, and really over the last several years and decades and generations. Again, there’s a long history that leads up to this moment. And when I say ‘moment,’ I’m talking about what you’re speaking of. But the concept of ‘Black Lives Matter’ is more than a moment and more than a movement. It’s simply a phrase that needs to stand alone and be accepted and be acted upon. So people that may not understand that, I hope they can hear at least what I believe and what our team believes. I’m 99 percent sure that the majority of the players in this league believe the same thing – that aside from any political views or organizations, the simple fact of the matter is that the fight that we’re all on is for equality.
Q: What have you learned from Chris Paul during his time as the president of the National Basketball Players Association?
Powell: I’ve learned a lot. He’s really stepped into that role as the president of the union in a very serious way. I obviously don’t have a massive frame of reference in terms of past presidents as I’ve only played in this league for six years, but the first couple of years that I was a player and part of the union with really no idea of what goes on behind the scenes and what happens in negotiations and what happens in times like this when things are uncertain, I really had no idea what that job would entail.
Now that I’ve been in the league a little longer and seen how things work and had the opportunity to get to know Chris [Paul] and to watch him do his job as the president, it’s amazing that he’s able to still play basketball. It’s extremely time consuming. It’s taxing because he holds himself to the standard where he feels responsible for every opinion of every player in the union. And that means there’s going to be a lot of times where you have groups of guys that don’t believe the same things as other groups of guys. And he takes it upon himself to find ways to make sure everyone feels confident with the things that we’re doing as a group that are the right thing. He’s done a phenomenal job at using his network as far as being an All-Star and knowing the guys at the level and with his team and the connections from the various teams he’s played for over the years. I know his phone bill must be through the roof. He’s on it 24/7 trying to find ways to allow each of our individual voices come together to one that he can present to the rest of the union and to the league and to the public. So he’s done a phenomenal job.