Brooklyn Nets coach Lionel Hollins always appreciates the time he gets to spend in Africa motivating and encouraging the locals. It’s part of the reason he keeps coming back.
This week, Hollins made his fifth trip to the continent as part of the NBA's Basketball Without Borders program. He will coach Team World in an exhibition game Saturday in South Africa. Hollins' roster includes brothers Pau and Marc Gasol and Chris Paul.
“I like to give back, and I think it’s important to give back,” Hollins said Friday. “It’s a life-changing experience when you come over here. You appreciate home a lot more. You appreciate what you have a lot more.
“I think more players should get out of their comfort zone, travel around the world and see how other people live. You find that people are the same everywhere -- that they have the same goals, the same aspirations, the same dreams. Everybody goes about getting them a bit differently, but they still do it, and it’s important to understand that we’re all tied together.”
Hollins has been quite busy during the trip, visiting places like the Cape of Hope (where the Indian and Atlantic Oceans meet), Robben Island (where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned) and a Johannesburg orphanage.
He’s been to wineries in the hills, eaten lunch at a restaurant in a French-speaking town and done some basketball coaching at clinics for local children.
“Obviously, it’s a continent with great potential,” Hollins said. “The (basketball) infrastructure has to be laid down, the facilities have to be built, coaches have to come and teach coaching so the game is starting at a younger age. Most of these kids don’t start until they’re 15-16 years old. In America, kids are playing basketball at 6-7 and learning most of the nuances that most of these kids don’t know.
“Obviously, over here, the No. 1 sports are rugby and soccer. It’s not basketball. But (basketball) is growing and they’re laying the foundation and I’m happy to be part of laying that foundation, which had to be laid in China, Europe and South America as well. I think that in the future there’s going to be these unbelievable players that are going to come out of here. I played with Hakeem Olajuwon, who was one of the first African players to play in the NBA. He set the standard that someday is going to be surpassed by another African kid.”
“Billy and I have a great relationship, and just being around he and his family and sitting at dinner and talking about basketball and life has been great,” Hollins said. “It’s not the boss-coach relationship, it’s more we’re developing a friendship that can transcend basketball.”
Overall, Hollins feels fortunate to get these opportunities to make a difference.
“They’re grateful for everything they have and grateful for everything they’re given and that’s something that stands out,” Hollins said. “They’re very motivated. Kids at the camps are working consistently hard and trying to learn and benefit because they have so many hopes and dreams. And when we come, we kind of give them this avenue that allows their dreams to grow into realities. And in return we wind up being blessed by what they give back to us when you see the smiles and the appreciation.”