As he was busy surveying his brand new surroundings, Maurion Johnson paused to huddle with a group of eight of his close friends so he could happily deliver a message of gratitude to his listeners.
“These boys right here, they’re my brothers,” Johnson said. “When I look at them I see family, and I feel like this court has been a big part of holding that family together.”
Obviously wise beyond his years, Johnson, 13, was referring to the basketball court the Mavs Foundation renovated and unveiled Wednesday at the Voice of Hope Ministries. It’s the 25th basketball court the Mavs Foundation has renovated over the past 23 years and, like the others, this one brought tears of joy to those who will use the court for more than just playing basketball.
“It’s not only a benefit to the kids we serve, but it’s a benefit to the community at large,” said Edward Franklin, the president and chief executive officer of Voice of Hope Ministries. “Voice of Hope, over the years, has become like a beacon in our community that many folks come because we’re an oasis.
“We open our doors to the community, so not only is it a place for activities, this is like our fellowship hall. It’s our gathering space, and we have community meetings in here as well. So, when the community comes in and sees how nice it looks, they’re going to be excited as well.”
Franklin said he appreciates the Mavs Foundation going through their selection process and choosing to put a new facelift on their basketball court.
“I’ve been here for 15 years and this court was here when I arrived,” Franklin said. “Our ministry has been here since 1982, so I imagine about 37 years at the minimum that (the old basketball court) has been here.
“I think this is wonderful, phenomenal, fantastic — any other adjective that I could come up with — because you should have seen how our gym looked before. The installation was falling down, the floor was cracking. It was just not in the best shape.”
Kuntelleon Spikes agreed.
“The floor looked off,” the 12-year old said. “But thanks to the Mavericks, they helped make us a new court. We have improved a lot.”
Mavs forward Justin Jackson was on hand to assist with the court dedication and walked away very impressed with what he witnessed.
“I think the biggest thing is just seeing all of these little kids just having fun,” Jackson said. “Giving a place like this where kids can go and just have fun with their buddies, and for one, stay out of trouble, and for two, have somewhere just to go have fun, is pretty awesome to see.
“I kind of grew up kind of in the YMCA area, so that’s kind of what I did (as a kid). But if I would have had a place like this I think I would have a lot more fun just kind of hanging out and just having a good time on the basketball court with a bunch of my friends.”
In conjunction with the Mavs Foundation, the basketball court was unveiled in partnership with Wingstop, Sprite/Coca-Cola and the Pro Players Foundation. Jackson and representatives from the aforementioned groups assembled and took part in the ceremonial net-cutting and inaugural free throw shooting. Afterwards, the Mavs Basketball Academy coaches and Jackson hosted a 30-minute mini-basketball clinic for approximately 50 kids.
“I think it means a lot from seeing how much fun they’re already having, all the smiles and laughs and stuff like that,” Jackson said. “So, hopefully it can stay here for a really long time and help a lot of kids just to kind of have fun.”
Knowing that his ministry has been blessed to have the new basketball court, Franklin wanted to thank those who were involved in this process.
“I just want to thank the Mavs Foundation for what they’ve done for us, but more importantly what they do for the kids in our city and our county,” Franklin said. “A lot of times sports is a way out for a lot of our young people.
“Even if it’s not a reality, they think it gives them that hope that their lives can change if they do well in sports, and in particularly basketball. So, I want to applaud (Mavs proprietor) Mr. (Mark) Cuban and the CEO of the Mavericks (Cynthia Marshall) for all the work they’re putting in our city and in our county to help the kids like the ones here at Voice of Hope.”
Johnson also wanted to reach out and thank the Mavs for giving them an elegant place he can – with a huge smile – pridefully call his home away from home.
“Honestly, I wouldn’t be coming to this program without the court,” Johnson said. “So, the way that the Mavericks Foundation came and helped rebuild it to make it better than ever is really touching.
“I remember when it was gray and had tiles missing. But it’s a beautiful sight to see how it is now and how y’all turned it around. We really appreciate it.”