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Thursday, August 14, 2008
Updated: August 15, 4:16 PM ET
My dream for the team

By LZ Granderson
Page 2

A few years ago I was working on a profile of a high-salaried NBA player who happened to be black, and who hailed from a poor, inner-city neighborhood. The guy had been in the league during the time when $100 million contracts were common.

I remember thinking that with that much money, the entire planet literally was his playground.

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So when he told me that Atlanta was his all-time favorite vacation spot, I was more than a little disappointed.

That's like calling Olive Garden fine Italian dining.

But at the same time, I understood where he was coming from. When I was in college, studying abroad wasn't even something I thought was available to me. It just sounded expensive, unnecessary and, to be quite honest, something only white people had the luxury of doing. I didn't know any better. Growing up poor and unexposed in Detroit, my ideal vacation spot was Sandusky, Ohio -- home of the Cedar Point amusement park.

Talking with that player reminded me that having money as an adult doesn't automatically free your mind of the limited world view you develop as a child.

Tayshaun Prince
Tayshaun Prince shouldn't view visiting the Great Wall as just a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

I was reminded of that conversation this week when I watched a profile of the USA men's basketball team taking a tour of the Great Wall of China.

Tayshaun Prince called it a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. My first thought: Why? People visit the Great Wall all the time. Prince is rich. He could probably go every summer for the rest of his life if he wanted. But Tay is from Compton, Calif., and went to Dominguez High School, historically one of the worst academic schools in the nation. There's a good chance he didn't see any globetrotters growing up. If you don't see it, you don't know about it. If you don't know about it, how can you pursue it?

I'm not out to embarrass Prince -- and he might not have meant the statement the way I took it. Still, I couldn't help but wonder if he was a Sandusky, Ohio, brotha the way I used to be.

This is why I have two hopes for Team USA Basketball -- both men and women.

First, Gold.

Second, they take their considerable resources and expose the underprivileged to the wonderful world of, well, the wonderful world.

Stop building basketball courts in the 'hood -- little kids already know about basketball -- and do something that could open the eyes of a young person who is not even aware their eyes are closed.

Tennis great Andre Agassi used to make his shoe sponsor, Nike, donate to his foundation, and in 2001 he opened a college preparatory charter school in West Las Vegas, one of the poorest areas of his native city. Agassi wasn't a rich kid with a silver spoon in his mouth. He was the son of an Iranian immigrant and is a high-school dropout. But he took all that he was exposed to and brought it back to kids who needed someone to care.

I'm not saying the current efforts of a Chris Bosh or Carmelo Anthony are ineffective. Quite the contrary. I'm sure seeing successful athletes returning to lend a hand helps a great deal in cities such as Baltimore and Dallas. But while new basketball courts can give a kid something to do, education can give a kid something to build on. And let's face it, no matter how many points they might score their senior season, most of our children will end up as fans, not players. The real question is, what kind of fan will they be?

Could you imagine the impact of Kobe Bryant and Candace Parker spearheading a charter school or study abroad program in Los Angeles? Or something similar in Cleveland with LeBron James? Then Nike's brightest stars take the graduates abroad at the end of the year. That's not a ridiculous pipe dream. Affluent middle and high schools take their students overseas in the summer all the time. Why? Because travel can light a child's curiosity and implant a hunger for knowledge. Given that high school graduates make less than half of what college graduates make -- according to the U.S. Census Bureau -- it's no wonder the poor get poorer. Education is how you begin to break the cycle of poverty.

And as Agassi has shown, athletes can play a role -- if they really want to.

With all of the excitement over the Redeem Team, there's a chance for one or more of our bright, young stars to make a lasting change here at home. And refurbish a basketball court or two if they still want.

Follow-up note from LZ: Thank you to all who responded so positively to this column. Your e-mails of support are, as always, greatly appreciated. I want to send a special shout out to Jotiar in California. He correctly pointed out that Kobe already has a program set up to help students travel abroad. While I'm disappointed my own reporting missed this, I am happy to have a forum where I can share this information and the good word. Great job, Kobe, and thanks again to Jotiar.

LZ Granderson is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine and a regular contributor to Page 2. He can be reached at l_granderson@yahoo.com.