It was a typical day of basketball drills for the kids at the YM-YWHA.
Until Joel Anthony, of the two time NBA champion Miami Heat, walked through the door.
“You can’t believe the smile on their faces when they saw him come in. It was just unbelievable,” said Linton Garner, head coach of the juvenile AA basketball Wolves. ”They were really impressed. “
The Dawson College graduate says he hasn’t looked back since he signed a contract with the Heat six years ago.
But he’s a proud Montrealer, grateful for his roots.
“For me, I didn’t have a lot of these opportunities growing up so to be able to do something like this is really special for me,” said Anthony. “And I’m just really happy to be back home.”
He showed the kids how to train, played a few friendly matches – and taught them a thing or two about what it takes to make it in the NBA.
“It was a really cool experience to practice with an NBA player,” said Nicholas Burgos. ”It’s like a once in a lifetime chance.”
“I see Joel playing around with them and giving them high fives and encouraging them,” said Julian Mckenzie, a volunteer for the event. ”It’s a lot of good energy around here.”
Anthony says his goal is to inspire kids to follow their dreams and believe in themselves.
The kids had the chance to ask him their questions and they wanted to know – what inspires him?
Counting on his fingers, he said the church, his mum and of course, basketball.
“Some kids wanna play in the NBA. Those things are possible,” he said. “You can work hard and accomplish a lot of things and it starts now. So it’s just for them to be able to continue to strive to achieve their goals.”
And it’s wasn’t just the boys who were excited to meet Anthony. The girls were just as eager.
“It’s always fun meeting people like that and they’re always so nice,” said Maria Burgos. “Especially him.”
Although Anthony has experienced the bright lights of NBA success, he’s never forgotten his humble beginnings of growing up here in Montreal.
Events like this gives him the opportunity to give back to the kids in these neighbourhoods – kids who are a reminder of what he was like not too long ago.
“It really puts things in perspective just to be here,” said Anthony. “It’s humbling to see these kids and to think back on when you were their age and what you were going through.”
All proceeds of Saturday’s basketball clinic will go to the restoration of the Union United Church as well as the YM-YWHA.