As the Burlingame and Bay Area kids played a game of basketball after their warm-ups on the courts at , there was clearly a giant kid who stood out. Six foot, 7 inch Los Angeles Lakers player Matt Barnes.
On Wednesday, the third day of the 5-day camp, the 100 kids not only practiced basketball drills but were taught teamwork and other life skills.
“It’s not just about basketball,” Matt Barnes said. “We teach them about school, life and other sports.”
Barnes, a Bay Area native, decided to start the camp five years ago as a way to give back to the community that helped raised him, he said.
“We didn’t have much, but we all watched out for each other,” Barnes said. “Basketball kept me out of trouble.”
He partnered with a friend and Electronic Arts employee to launch the camp, initially opening the program to children of EA employees.
This year, the camp was open to the entire community. And those who could not afford it were given scholarships to attend.
Barnes provided 16 scholarships to members of the Sheriff’s Activities League this year and provided additional scholarships to other nonprofit group members the previous years.
“This is super fun!” said Ryan Li, 9, a student at . “I really like basketball.”
Students like Teresa Dennis, 10, of Roosevelt Elementary School in Redwood City had no problem shouting Barnes’ name directly in order to get his attention.
“Matt! Matt! Over here!” Dennis said. She added that her favorite part was dribbling.
Jasmine Aikey, 7, from Roy Cloud Elementary in Redwood City said that Barnes was “super nice.”
He attends the camp every day, interacting with the kids and teaching them basketball fundamentals, the antithesis of a stuck-up high-profile celebrity athlete.
“Whether we like it or not, people are listening to us, so we might as well be positive role models,” Barnes said. “We can use our influence in a positive way to give back to the community.”
In 2008, Barnes also created the nonprofit Athletes Vs. Cancer, which brings athletes together to fight against cancer, provides free screenings to those who cannot afford it. Barnes’ mother passed away from cancer, making the cause especially personal for him.
“A lot of times the guys [in the National Basketball League] have bad reps,” Barnes said. “But they don’t spotlight all the good things they do.”