NBA star Ben Gordon wrapped up his first-ever education-focused weekend in his hometown in a new experience with schoolchildren and his induction Saturday afternoon into the Mount Vernon Sports Hall of Fame.
"I am looking at you guys and I see myself," the Detroit Pistons guard told the 75 third- to eighth-graders who turned out in the morning to meet the famous alumnus at the Mount Vernon High School gymnasium.
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In between teaching his young fans defense and dribbling techniques during the Slam Dunk Clinic, Gordon offered up some lessons on life: work hard and get an education. When he asked about their dreams, many said they hoped to play basketball -- but Gordon also met a future military officer, cop, famous pop star and hedge fund manager.
"It touched my heart to be around kids that small. It was more intimate," said Gordon, 29, who added that he has never spent concentrated time with students before and found it "different." Gordon and his fiancee, Sascha Smith, are parents of a 13-month-old son, Elijah.
Since he was drafted into the NBA eight years ago, Gordon has returned to Mount Vernon every summer for an activity-filled Ben Gordon Unity Weekend in the park. But he is expected to be away next month playing for the British basketball team during the Summer Olympics in London, where he was born to Jamaican parents who immigrated to the U.S. and settled in Mount Vernon.
The Education Weekend was proposed as an alternative and will hopefully return next year in some format, said Mount Vernon High School Principal Ronald Gonzalez, adding "the kids feel very, very appreciated."
The event definitely scored points with Michael Hunter, 8. "It was really cool," he said, noting that he has now improved his layup by taking Gordon's advice to "relax and get contact."
For 13 hours on Friday, Gordon toured schools, gave speeches and made a guest appearance at a perfect-attendance awards ceremony. On Saturday, he returned to the high school court where he helped to lead the Mount Vernon Knights to the 2000 New York State Public and Federation Championships. This time, his winning status was certain as he joined the Mount Vernon Sports Hall of Fame.
Gordon recalled his own high school days and the inspiration he found in the men and women inducted in years past.
"Now I'm one of those guys and hopefully I can serve as an inspiration to the guys and girls that are coming up."