Photo courtesy of Ron Hamilton.
By David Cordova
In the urban community, a lot of kids aspire to play professional sports, usually the NBA. When they do that, one of their goals is to give back to the community that they came from. During the summertime in New York City, more often than not, kids are able to see their favorite NBA stars, whether current or retired, for free.
Some families can’t afford to attend NBA games at venues like Madison Square Garden or the Barclays Center, due to expensive prices for tickets. So when these players show up to their local community centers or playground tournaments, it means the world to them.
It even means more when those stars in question put together their own tournaments in those same communities that they once hailed from. For a legend like God Shammgod, it is a great opportunity for the kids to see someone of his magnitude.
“I believe you just gotta work hard, it gotta be a passion, it can’t be something that’s forced on the kids. I just think that if you put them in a positive and good environment, you know I think the kids will respond well.”
This year, marked the 2nd annual God Shammgod Stop The Violence Tournament, which took place at the Dunlevy Milbank Center on West 118th Street in Harlem. It was a tournament in which kids that were of age to be in elementary and middle school showcased their talents, while also having fun in the process.
“I’ve been involved or playing basketball altogether for 26 years, like all my life,” says Shammgod, “I saw the positive influence it had on me, by going on trips to France, Hawaii, things like that. I know what basketball means. Basketball breaks every barrier, as far as racism, as far as making friends, there’s only one language in basketball and that’s playing basketball.”
Shammgod was born in Brooklyn, but was raised in Harlem. When asked about his upbringing in that section of Manhattan, he replied, “Man, Harlem raised me, it made me everything I am. I used to tell people, ‘I got the heart of a Brooklyn person, but in my mind, I’m a Harlem person. A Harlem person is about making money, making their life better and becoming better as a person, you know, and I always tell people, I’m just a product of New York, period, it’s not about Brooklyn, Harlem, I’m just a product of New York.”
In high school, he attended LaSalle Academy in Manhattan, and became one of the best players in the city and in the country. As a senior in 1994-95, he led the Cardinals to a 24-2 record and a No. 6 national ranking in the USA Today poll. That same year, he became a McDonald’s All-American, one of two players from New York City (the other was Stephon Marbury, who later played in the NBA) to earn that honor.
From there, he went on to Providence College, in which he averaged 10.3 points and 6.6 assists per game throughout his his college career with the Friars. In his freshman year, he was selected to the All-Big East Rookie team. As a sophomore in 1996-97, he led Providence to the NCAA Elite Eight. Following that run, he chose to enter the NBA Draft, in which he was picked in the second round (45th overall) by the Washington Wizards, with whom he spent two seasons.
After his short stint in the NBA, he played in the CBA and overseas in countries like China, Saudi Arabia, Croatia and Poland for 10 years.
When asked about how it felt to have a tournament named after him in the community, Shammgod replied, “Man, it’s an honor for me to have my own tournament, you know, for Rock and them to bless me for my name with a tournament that was already growing and against violence, that’s doing something positive for the kids. I never in my wildest dreams thought I would have a tournament named after myself.”
After his playing days came to a close, Shammgod went back to Providence in 2012 to complete his undergraduate degree in Leadership Development, which he completed in the spring of 2015. During his time at Providence, he was a student assistant there, and helped with the skill development of the players. The players that learned from his tutleage were Kris Dunn (Chicago Bulls) and Ben Bentil (now playing for Champagne Châlons-Reims Basket in France), who were both drafted in 2016.
Due to his outstanding work at Providence, he received a job in the NBA with the Dallas Mavericks as a player development coach in 2016. When asked about being back in the NBA in a different role, he replied, “It’s a great experience for me, being with the Dallas Mavericks, just to show people that, even though my time was short in the NBA, I still made it back to the NBA, and I still got a positive effect on this generation. You know, for kids to even know of me, and for players to look at me, as being the person that sparked this generation, now it’s an honor, and I’m so happy that Dallas took a chance on me, and I’m going to do everything in my power to make sure it stays positive.”
When asked if he ever thought he’d be working in the NBA in that type of capacity, he replied, “Nah, it’s just funny, because, like when I was growing up, everybody always wanted me to teach them how to dribble, like when I showed Kobe Bryant how to dribble. I had my own plans, but I guess God had his own plans and it’s like, I’ve been a trainer longer than I could remember. I showed Chris Webber how to dribble and Kobe Bryant. But these people are still my age and I’m showing them how to dribble and everybody looks at me for dribbling, so it was like He was setting me up for this type of job.”
For all kids that aspire to play professional basketball in the future, here’s his message,” I would say, keep God first, keep positive people in their life, listen to their parents, and just work hard. When you do stuff like this, you have to be obsessed, like when I was their age, I couldn’t dribble, and I just became obsessed with it, and when you love something, you do it everyday and I just tell people, ‘Go to school, take the right steps, make your dreams come true, and if it ain’t the NBA and things like that, you’re going to get exactly what you want. Like, I wanted to be an NBA All-Star for the rest of my life, but that ain’t what God planned, but what God planned was just as good as what my plans would have been.”
This season, Shammgod will be helping train veteran players such as NBA All-Star Dirk Nowitzki, J.J. Barea, Harrison Barnes and Nerlens Noel and incoming rookie Dennis Smith, Jr.
But he still has goals of his own that he wants to accomplish, “Hopefully, one day to become a coach, take these experiences and just keep growing,” he replied, “I just try to better myself as a person, overall, whether it’s losing sixty pounds this year, losing weight, I just want to make myself a great human being, you know what I’m saying, and like how God sees me and things like that.”