Allan Houston tackles the fatherless crisis in America

During his NBA playing career, Allan Houston had to fight off the Miami Heat in playoff rivalries and the frustration of trying to return to form after microfracture knee surgery. But now, Houston may have his biggest challenge yet -- battling the increase in fatherlessness in the U.S. Yesterday, at the Knicks practice facility, Houston hosted his seventh annual "Father Knows Best Basketball Tour," which had a turnout of 75 pairs of fathers/children and mentors/mentees from New York and New Jersey who learned about establishing positive relationships through basketball and mentoring. I caught up with Houston before the event reached its finale to discuss the tour's impact, his relationship with his father, Wade, and why it's important for young athletes to have male role models involved in their lives.

What inspired you to start the tour?

Seven years ago, my father and I realized that our relationship was extremely unique, especially in the African-American community. He raised me to not only understand the fundamentals of basketball and to try to be a player with a high basketball IQ, but he wanted me to understand that my image and my name meant more than stats. The fact that he was my college head coach at Tennessee helped him drive this home because he was with me every day and I learned who he was as a man, not just a father. We kept our relationship very close, even through that stage in my life. By the time I had developed relationships in the NBA, especially as I became an elder in the league, I realized my father and I had to share our experience. A father is a coach, mentor, friend, all in one, although maybe not simultaneously. This was my experience all the time and we had to give that experience back. "Father Knows Best" got its name because we understood not all young males have this relationship or experience, but they should know and trust that there is a heavenly father that can be their source of inspiration and identity.

What were the themes of the basketball clinics and workshops at today's event?

We combined basketball drills with the concept that fathering, mentoring and learning from a father figure must be trained while having fun. We had experts do workshops as well as my father and I doing shooting demos and training. We had one workshop on legacy. Part of our curriculum program identity is based on fundamentals of manhood, so we talk about what does it mean to be a real young man and a real man no matter what society dictates. So part of that is we have the fundamentals of faith, integrity, sacrifice, leadership and legacy. And we talk about what does that mean to you, what do you want your legacy to be and why is legacy important because our intended purpose in life as a man is to live out a legacy through where you’re passing down key components of success to your kids and to your children’s children. That does not have to be as a father; it could be as a mentor or a coach. So those fundamentals are key.

How did you use your relationship with your father as a template to help fathers and mentors relate to children?

Basically, I talked about the example that he set. His example was one that really illustrated those components [in his answer above]. The way he lived his life, the way he treated my mother, those daily lessons that I learned on a consistent basis are the ones that I stick with. You have to have a certain standard, and those are the things that I talked about for me growing up. I also talked about how my legacy should not just be one of a skill in basketball; my legacy should be what kind of young man is my son, what kind of young woman is my daughter because it’s really the time that I spend and the lessons that they learn from me and my wife every day. That will determine my legacy.

What do you and your father enjoy doing together?

My father and I enjoy playing golf together the most. He taught me when I was 10. We talk basketball and sports, politics, the need for equal education opportunity, laughing about anything and everything.

How can a father or mentor be better involved with a child on a day-to-day basis?

Consistency is probably one of the biggest things. [Thunder guard] Royal Ivey’s dad spoke about how he didn’t have a blueprint or anything like that. He just learned as he went. And that’s the case for most dads. [ESPN The Magazine senior writer] Chris Broussard spoke about the impact of fatherlessness in America. The statistics would suggest that 70% of our African-American young men are headed towards trouble because they don’t have a dad. So there is no formula, but what we believe is that God has given us a playbook in his words, and that’s really what we base our instructions from, and we can apply that in our own individual personalities and lives.

Speaking of fatherlessness, many times in pro sports you hear about athletes who were raised in single-parent homes. Since you’ve been a pro athlete yourself, do you ever get a sense of how they feel about not having their father around? Is reconnecting something that’s important to them?

I think you hit on a hot button because one of the questions that came from my panel discussion was this. When I, as a father, am trying to teach my son or mentee good principles, then they see a guy pull up in a Lamborghini on TV or they see the media glamorizing certain things. What I find is that a lot of young guys who come into the NBA, when they don’t have a dad, they’re depending on the first person who they can trust. And the first person they can trust may not be their dad, but it may be someone who may not have their best interest; it may be someone who has their own interest, and that may be financial. Now, it might be a good mentor or it might be a good father figure, but a lot of times, it’s not; it’s someone who doesn’t understand himself what some of these principles are. The more consistent a father can be or a mentor can be in the person’s life and teach them principles of real solid manhood, character, integrity and leadership, the more consistent you can be in the person’s life and teach them those things at a younger age, and then the better off they’ll be.

Have there been any players who you’ve helped with fatherly mentorship or to reconnect with their fathers?

I’ve had a few guys who may have not had a good relationship with their dad, but they’re good guys. I think you only know what you’re taught, how you’re trained and what you’ve learned. There are so many guys that come up and have strong hearts, but they just have to understand what the consequences are and how to execute the things that they learned to make themselves successful. Success isn’t always going to be a huge contract; success is going to be if you just live out your purpose in life.

How can mothers help support the development of a father-child relationship?

What happens is mothers end up being the biggest supporters because some of the mothers are the ones who are trying to raise these guys and teach them. Mothers end up wanting to bring all the young men in their community into a program like this.

What are some opportunities you’re looking to explore with the tour?

We have been invited to the White House and have been asked to speak with the Attorney General on panels, among several other invitees in addressing solutions in our national crisis of fatherlessness. We have since developed, as an extension of FKB, a seven-week program called F.I.S.L.L. This is an acronym for faith, integrity, sacrifice, leadership and legacy. We have a curriculum that guides participants -- fathers, sons, daughters, mentors, mentees -- through the program. The program's aim is to carry the same theme, function and effectiveness as FKB, but in meeting once per week, it will allow for more time in between activities to expand their growth, and allow for follow-up and data. This year, we have partnered with the YMCA in Norwalk, Connecticut, and the Carver Center in Port Chester, New York, to host F.I.S.L.L. This program allows for any community center, organization, men's group, church, etc. to partner with us anywhere in the country. We hope to expand this nationally and globally. The mandate for men to be purposeful in their call as fathers and leaders starts with how they are trained and equipped as boys and young men. We intend to play a key role in the movement that accomplishes this.

Have there been any stories you've heard from mentor-mentee relationships that have personally influenced you?

When they leave the retreat, they say, “We have never experienced anything like your retreat.” Last summer, a man and his son intended to attend a football camp but came to our retreat that was across the street. They saw signs that said, “Allan Houston Father Knows Best Basketball Retreat.” The father asked his son, "Which one do you want to go to?" The son said, "Let's do the basketball camp.” At the end of the first workshop, the dad came up to me and my co-host, Blake Wilson, a big brother to me and a pastor from Houston, Texas. The father, with tears in his eyes, told us that his life has been changed, and this was destiny that he had come to our retreat. He committed right then to change his life and become the father his son deserved to have. I received a text from our video coordinator after yesterday's retreat that said, "Allan, I am moved by this footage. You may never realize the impact this retreat is making on these guys.”