You were announced as a Laureus Ambassador a few months ago. Can you tell us what Laureus means to you?
Well, sport has been a huge part of my life for the better part of 35 years, and I've been fortunate enough to be able to use the game of basketball to open up countless opportunities for me and my family. I've been able to develop some amazing relationships throughout basketball and I still am. I've been able to travel the world and see so many parts of the world that has been breathtaking for me. So being selected as a Laureus Ambassador is a tremendous honour considering what it stands for and how it all evolved from the great South African President, Nelson Mandela. To be part of this initiative and understanding the power of sport and how it changes the lives of young people really inspires me. I want to make sure that we continue to expose as many children as we can to our sport.
How can Laureus help budding basketball players and other young, aspiring athletes to realise their dream?
A lot of these kids come into the world pretty much playing the hand that they are dealt. They are thirsting for direction and it's important that we as adults try to provide the best possible direction for each and every one of these kids. Sport grasps their attention to help them understand the importance of the different components of life. It's about being a good citizen and learning honesty and integrity and being able to communicate with your teammates and working together as a group. There's so many different ways that we can use sport to help teach kids the important components of life so that they can survive in a corporate world. I feel like that: sport gives us an opportunity to use it as a tool to connect with these young people.
You've been supporting one programme, the Overtown Youth Center. Can you explain how you've been trying to help?
The Overtown Youth Center is a not for profit organisation where we have over 400 kids in our after school programme, second grade all the way through 12th grade, and we follow them through post high; we follow them all the way through college. The center serves not only as a safe haven for these kids in a very challenging environment, but it's an educational facility where we address a lot of the literacy skills. But at the same time, we take a holistic approach towards the development of these kids through a structured after?school programme which allows us to expose them to not just the importance of reading and writing, but enrichment such as drama and dance. We enhance their computer skills and athletics is a big component of our programme, as well. Because there's so much in the public school system that they have to eliminate because of budget cuts, we try to expose our kids to as much as we can, as much or more than the public school system does. So we have a partnership which allows us to help develop these kids and through their development, we identify all the obstacles in their life that prevent them from walking through the doors of a school to walking across a stage with a diploma in their hand. Our success rate is 100% of our kids graduate from high school and 90% of our kids go to college and graduate.
Do you think it's important for sportsmen or sportswomen to give back to society?
Yes, I do. None of us would be in the position we are today without somebody providing some type of support along the way. So I feel like we are very fortunate from that aspect because we are where we are in this life because of somebody else's contribution.
Let's talk about the FIBA World Cup. Do you see the United States as the favourites to win the World Cup this year?
Well, I think they are going to have a tough match against Spain. Spain has a great, great team and I think that the game is different compared to when the first and the second Dream Teams were established back in '92 and '94. I played on the '94 Dream Team and I think that the international teams are not in awe as they were back then. Now they are a lot more accustomed to the style of play of the Americans and many of the international players are playing in the NBA. So when they play against the USA teams, they are not as intimidating. So I expect Spain to be very aggressive and I expect them to give them probably a very tough challenge, but ultimately I think the US will win.
You've played for Team USA in the World Cup in 1994, won the gold medal. How do you feel about playing for the national team?
It's an honour and a privilege to be able to represent your country and to ultimately become victorious. When you think about the history of Olympic basketball and international basketball, it gives us an opportunity to set a stage which allows countries from all over the world to come together and unite and support one particular event. That's very, very powerful. Being a part of that process was very, very inspiring and it was enlightening to me and it really gave me an opportunity to look at the world from a totally different perspective.
Some are saying that without players like LeBron James and Kobe Bryant, the team is not what it was. What do you think of the current US team?
'92 is when we started sending the best of our best, and now the momentum has died down. Because with every Olympic competition or international competition that we have now, even if we don't send the best of our best, we still have an opportunity to be productive and we still have an opportunity to become victorious. You know, the game originated in the United States by James Naismith and now from a global perspective, so many young people play because of our influence.
You had guys like Magic Johnson and Larry Bird and Michael Jordan and the media exposed the play of these players and it sparked the interests of other international players to want to learn the sport; and then learning the sport, many of them have perfected it. Now you have Pau Gasol and Serge Ibaka and then you have Dirk Nowitzki and Tony Parker, and you have all of these international players that are great, great players now because of the influence of players of the past, where they have grown up watching them play, and they have inspired these young players from other countries to learn the sport.
You probably know that we recently announced the Spanish Basketball Team as new Laureus Ambassadors. What do you think about Serge Ibaka or Marc Gasol?
Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol? They are great players. There's not too much more that you can say about that. They are really, really good players. They have established themselves in this league. They have some of their best basketball ahead of them. They are on great teams in the NBA and I feel like that they have a tremendous opportunity to establish themselves and become possible Hall of Famers in this league. Sarunas Marciulionis was just inducted into the National Basketball Hall of Fame. He's an international player and he was a great and one of the first international players to play in the NBA and a very well deserved honour. I feel players like Serge Ibaka, like the Gasol brothers have an opportunity, if they continue to accomplish the things that they have accomplished, to be inducted into the National Basketball Hall of Fame, which is the ultimate honour for a basketball player in the US.
So do you think the US will be winning the final, and if yes, what kind of score?
I don't know what the score is going to be. I think it's going to be very close. I think they will play Spain in the final and I feel like the US will have the edge in the game. I think across the board, they have more talent than the Spanish team does. But basketball is a game of mistakes. The team that makes the least mistakes is the team that comes out victorious.
Can we look at the new NBA season now. You have been one of the greatest legends of the Miami Heat, how much did you enjoy the ride after all the years with the team?
It was an incredible ride. I look back on my career and I feel like considering all the obstacles in my life, I was able to accomplish a lot considering some of the things that I had to overcome. With the season coming up, I expect it to be a very entertaining year for us. We made some significant changes in our personnel and it's a matter of these guys learning how to play together in a short period of time so that we can be victorious in June in the NBA Finals.
Can you explain your role with Miami Heat?
My title is Vice President of Player Development and Programmes. I work very closely with the players, not on the sidelines, but trying to help these guys become better professionals, not just on the court, but off the court, as well, because there's a balance there that you're not a basketball player for your whole life. There's another side of your life that you need to balance and improve on, as well. Especially the younger players, I kind of help them with that.
Between your 2006 NBA title with Miami and your gold medal from the Olympics in Sydney, which would you say is more important to you?
I can't really put one ahead of the other because both of them were significant honours and I'm very, very thankful to represent my country but I also know how hard it was to win a World Championship with the Miami Heat. I know how difficult that moment was. So I can't say one is better than the other. Considering how difficult it was to win the World Championship, I might give it a slight edge, but outside of that, no, both of them are very, very polished and valuable accomplishments to me and I'm very thankful.
About the obstacles that you faced: you fought your way back after a kidney transplant and came back to win the NBA Championship. How did you make that happen?
Well, it's just my will to want to succeed. Just regardless of what the obstacles were, I wanted to be successful. It wasn't about giving up. It was about trying to find a way to overcome it. So that's what it came down to.
You're still very actively supporting the National Kidney Foundation. How important is it for you to help others after you got such a tremendous support for your life? Is it one of the reasons that you matched successfully with the Laureus Foundation?
Yeah, that's basically what it comes down to. It's about going through difficult things and everybody is going to go through some type of challenge or difficulty in their lives. It's just a matter of how you overcome it.
What advice would you give to a young kid?
There are no guarantees that you're going to win, but if you don't put in the hard work, you don't stand a chance at winning at all. So you get out of life what you put into it. You've got to put all you can into something, whether it be your homework in the classroom, whether it be trying to study for that next test. The more you practise, the more you spend time in the weight room, the more you do anything, as it pertains to your mind and your body, will increase your chances of being successful at it.
How would you like to be remembered?
Everybody wants to be remembered as somebody that made a difference and I just like to feel like, hey, if I leave this Earth knowing that I made a difference in somebody else's life, a positive difference, where I change their lives for the better, then I guess I lived a good life.