By David Cordova
One thing that most aspiring young males in the urban community dream of is eventually getting the chance to play in the NBA. Some even think of giving back to the place that they came from.
For Isaiah Whitehead, those thoughts and dreams have become a reality, as he is about to embark on his second season with the Brooklyn Nets. The fact that he gets to play in his hometown of Brooklyn at the Barclays Center is an amazing feat.
He has seen many accolades, such as: Winning the PSAL city championship as a junior in 2012-13 at Lincoln High School, being selected to the McDonald’s All-American Game and the Jordan Brand Classic in 2014, winning the Haggerty Award and leading Seton Hall to the Big East championship in 2016 as a sophomore in college. Then on June 23rd, 2016, Whitehead fulfilled a childhood dream by being selected as the 42nd overall pick to the Utah Jazz, but was then traded to the Nets. As a rookie, he averaged 7.4 points per game, and plans to have a bigger role this season.
But off the court, one thing that can be said about Whitehead is the fact is that he is a humanitarian that he gives back to the community. So much so, that last Sunday, on August 6th, at the PS 288 playground in Coney Island, Whitehead threw his third annual Give Back Day, an event that he started when he was still at Seton Hall.
“He’s a tremendous asset to this community because he came from here, he’s homegrown, a humble young man that had to work hard through adversity and had to work hard through adversity and showed a shining example of how you can break through if you stay focused,” says Joby Smith, a sportscaster from NYC Sports Network.
When some think of Coney Island, some people may think of the amusement rides or the boardwalk, others may think of the talent that has been bred there, including four NBA players – Stephon Marbury, Sebastian Telfair, Lance Stephenson and currently, Whitehead – but also, the community around that is like any other ghetto with its despair and its problems. But one thing about Coney Island is that there is a lot of love and support from the community, especially if one definitely has a chance to make it somewhere in life.
Having the Give Back Day once again was a treat for the kids and all of the people from the community, because it was a chance to celebrate the accomplishments of their native son. “It means everything, the bar was set high, this was incredible,” says Michael Washington, a Coney Island native, “It just tells you that it means everything to us, not only to him, but everyone in Coney Island and in New York City.”
Washington also offered great praise of Whitehead as a person: “Isaiah Whitehead, the person, is someone that has a heart of all hearts, he has a heart of gold & platinum. Just to experience college, now to the pros, it’s like he brought all his family and his friends with him, he don’t leave anyone out. He just has a heart of gold.”
Whitehead has also left his mark on a legion of youths not only in the tri-state area, but mainly in his community, in which many of the kids idolize him. “Him coming from Coney Island, makes everyone else coming from Coney Island, more noticeable,” says Jasiah Lewis, a rising senior at Lincoln.
The Give Back Day started at 10:30 AM and had five games. Unlike the first two years of this event, the games were played on a hardwood court that was built on the playgrounds of PS 288 on West 25th Street and Mermaid Avenue. Another major thing that happened that day was when Whitehead was given the Proclamation, making that day, “Isaiah Whitehead Day,” in Brooklyn, as an honor for his service to the community by Brooklyn Borough President Eric L. Adams.
“When you’re a kid who went through war and went through trials and tribulations in this community, for you to come back and give back to the same kids that’s going through the same struggle and the same lifestyle as you, it’s just like a blessing, it’s like Santa Claus, it’s like Christmas,” says Tasheen Knight, one of the organizers of the event.
“It means so much because I’m from here, so it was good to be a part of this,” said A.J. Williams, his high school teammate at Lincoln, and a senior at Clark Atlanta University. “He’s basically like my family, whenever he went to the gym or worked out or something, we all did it together, we did it as a family.”
The turnout from the crowd was amazing as hundreds of people gathered around the hardwood court to watch some good basketball being played and also performances from artists such as rapper Lou Got Cash.
Up next for Whitehead is the upcoming 2017-18 season for the Nets, in which he is poised to have an even better season. Also in the works is a documentary on him, titled, “Respect My Journey,” which is about his time as a high school hoopster at Lincoln and his days at Seton Hall, which is also produced by Smith.
“We’ve been shooting it for five years and we wanted to capture his growth and show that process of him coming up and what it took, you know, the whole story, the whole journey, on & off the court.” says Smith on the documentary.
There is one thing that is certain. August 6th, 2017 will forever be remembered as, “Isaiah Whitehead Day.” But most importantly, it was a day that showed how much of a humanitarian he is. And as for the Give Back Day, be sure for more of those to come. “The bar is set high,” says Washington, “Whoever that kid is that will be inspired by these great players, whether he or she be from Coney Island or any other area, I just wish that they’re inspired by this.”
Highlights of Isaiah Whitehead’s Give Back Day:
Courtesy of Madison Basketball Alliance.
Courtesy of Overtime.