I don’t know if it’s just me, but I could always tell what type of person someone is by the way they play basketball. The loud, boisterous ones always yelling at the refs like Rasheed Wallace were the ones I knew would be unstoppable in a Royal Rumble match. The aggressors on the glass, and those diving for loose balls were the ones who didn’t have a problem doing the dirty work. And the ones with grace and elegance were the laid back sly cats.
Allan Houston‘s game always reflected the last sentiment. Watching number 20 weave his way through screens and pulling the trigger on his velvety-smooth jump shot was something to marvel at during his iconic Knick days. He never taunted his opponents after unleashing an array of threes in his grill. No, he just got back on the other end to worry about his defensive assignment.
Watching Allan Houston conduct his Father Knows Best Program at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn this past Saturday, I was able to see him in the flesh. This wasn’t Allan Houston the ballplayer or Allan Houston the Knicks’ front office rep. This was Allan Houston the father, the son and the community leader.
As Houston conducted his festivities, catered to bringing inner city families closer together, he orchestrated a myriad of drills for kids who knew the name of Houston, but unlike old folks like myself, weren’t familiar with his game. He donned his blue Knicks shorts and waved admirably to his supporters, promising a beautiful day.
Kids flooded the courts with energy. Whether it was showing off their Vinsanity-like bungees in the dunk contest or being able to showcase their ferocious defense during intense 3-on-3 games, fun was ubiquitously disseminated through the gymnasium. While some would label this as simply a basketball clinic or an indoor block party, the message Houston was trying to convey was way deeper.
“Basketball is a tool,” he said. “It can be used to get a lot of people out of unfortunate situations. The same way as music and art does. For us, we’re using basketball to paint a bigger picture. That bigger picture is letting people know that there are men who are fathers, coaches and teachers that (are) really trying to be out there for their kids. Statistics and public perceptions suggest that they’re not. So, our message is not enough just to be there for your kids,” he said.
As he spoke, I realized how much he and I have both aged. I was just a kid when I began emulating Houston’s moves on my adversaries, pretending every foe I encountered was a member of the Heat. The grays and wrinkles were visible on his face but the drive and passion he had not only for the game but life was still within his eyes. He’s not playing against the Reggies or the Kobes anymore. He’s playing against the world’s biggest challenger: life.
“My father was there for me as a coach and as a mentor,” Houston said. “I’ve learned certain principals â€“ life principals and skills â€“ from playing for him that I felt like we had to share. Our goal is to tell the men and tell the families that the power and presence in their lives is to train them to be what God chose them to be.”
Being an active leader under God’s wing is the biggest challenge Houston faces. Not unfazed by the hindrances, he’s actively pushing his Father Knows Best Program to Manhattan, Staten Island and just recently, Brooklyn.
With a soul and mind as clear as Avion water, he hopes his son, Allan Ray Houston III, can lead by example and become comfortable under his own skin. And with a father-son relationship that mirrors Denzel Washington and Ray Allen in Spike Lee‘s renowned flick, He Got Game, Houston says he’s less demanding and more understanding when approaching his son on basketball.
“I have had struggles earlier on when I was naming him and giving him the third because I didn’t want him to go through situations where he felt he had pressure to live up to his name,” Houston said, smiling as he watched his son sit down across from us. “But now, I have peace knowing that it’s not about how good he is in a sport. His name should hold more weight than his skill. His name should be who he’s representing â€“ his identity. He’s a young man who loves God and who has character.
“I asked him the other day, ‘Where do you see yourself?’ Because some kids would say, ‘I wanna be the next Kobe. I wanna be this.’ He said, ‘I just wanna be the best I can be at whatever I do.’ What else do I need?”
As kids continued to launch their final attempts, people began cleaning up and slowly evacuating through the doors. The music faded and the dancers who had paraded through the court with their best renditions of “The Dougie” returned to their normal selves.
Fans rallied around Houston as he posed for pictures and ornamented their t-shirts with his John Hancock. The 2-time All-Star and former Gold Medalist who saved the city of Gotham with his legendary teardrop against Miami in a memorable Game 5 back in ’99 served as their hero… not as a Knick, but by being a man.
Dime: A lot of people may have misconceptions about your Father Knows Best program as just simply serving as a basketball clinic. Why is it more than basketball and more about life?
Allan Houston: Basketball is a tool. It can be used to get a lot of people out of unfortunate situations. The same way as music and art does. For us, we’re using basketball to paint a bigger picture. That bigger picture is letting people know that there are men who are fathers, coaches and teachers that are really trying to be out there for their kids. Statistics and public perceptions suggest that they’re not. So, our message is not enough just to be there for your kids. Someone is going to raise our kids if we don’t. It’s not enough to be there but we have to train them. My father was there for me as a coach and as a mentor. I’ve learned certain principals â€“ life principals and skills â€“ from playing from him that I felt like we had to share. Our goal is to tell the men and tell the families that the power and presence in their lives is to train them to be what God chose them to be.
Dime: You’ve just mentioned that your father was able to instill certain skills and traits in you such as a direction and instruction. Are those some of the same traits and lessons you try to pass down to your son?
AH: Well not only my son, but I have five daughters. So the thing is, people are seeing this as a father-son thing but we have girls here. We have daughters here. I have five daughters that are going to look to a man. What’s the picture of a man going to look like? Hopefully it’s going to look like what I, in my imperfect way, have given them. So, it’s about training these young men to not only be fathers, but also how to teach their daughters. I want to pass these lessons down to my son. I want to pass them onto anybody who comes to this foundation and who comes to the Knicks. These are the same conversations I have with our players about life, family, and basketball because they all come together.
Dime: I’ve always loved the movie He Got Game with Ray Allen and Denzel.
AH: I just saw the movie two weeks ago. It was amazing.
Dime: I mention that movie because of the father-son relationship within that film and what I’ve seen with you and your son today. Did you ever find yourself pushing your son to love the game the same way you did?
AH: You know, it’s funny that you asked that. I have had struggles earlier on when I was naming him and giving him the third because I didn’t want him to go through situations where he felt he had pressure to live up to his name. But now, I have peace knowing that it’s not about how good he is in a sport. His name should hold more weight than his skill. His name should be who he’s representing â€“ his identity. He’s a young man who loves God and who has character. My thing is whatever sport he plays, however good he is, he has to know these five fundamentals that we teach in our program to know who he really is. Basketball is something you do. Who you are is your life principles. Are you someone who can be trusted? Are you hard-working? Are you a leader? Are you someone people like to emulate? When I talk to him about football and basketball, he knows he’s competing for me but it’s about how he does â€“ the way he goes about it. It’s not about how many touchdowns he scores or in basketball how many points he scores. I’ll push him in a way that I want him to be great at whatever he does. Quick story about that, I asked him the other day: “Where do you see yourself?” Because some kids would say “I wanna be the next Kobe. I wanna be this.” He said, “I just wanna be the best I can be at whatever I do.” What else do I need?
Dime: Switching gears, because you were one of the best pure midrange shooters in the game, which three players in your mind would you say became the best mid-range shooters in the league since you left?
AH: Wow. Kobe, ‘Melo, ummm. (Pauses) Wow, this is tough.
Dime: I would say Rip.
AH: I’m thinking Rip or Ray. Yeah I would say Kobe, as matter of fact I would throw Rip (in). It’s tough to take Ray out. It really is. Can I say four?
Dime: Sure. Why not? (Laughs)
AH: I’m going to say Rip, ‘Melo, Kobe and Ray.
Dime: You gotta round out the five man. (Laughs)
AH: Steve Nash (Laughs)
Dime: He is one definitely a great shooter. A lot of people would forget because he’s always dishing out the ball.
AH: If you watch his shooting percentage, he’s always been great.
What was the best moment of Houston’s career?
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