Valley's neediest get NBA assist
As All-Star Game draws near, league is repairing homes and helping out schools
By Jahna Berry
Feb. 4, 2009
This month's NBA All-Star Game won't just be a tourism bonanza for Phoenix; it will also pour tens of thousands of dollars into helping Valley kids and poor families.
Less than two weeks before the nation's top basketball players showcase their skills at US Airways Center, the league is shining the spotlight on its compassionate side as it pitches in on several charitable projects.
The National Basketball Association's officials and players, together with other groups, already have fanned out across the Valley, rebuilding homes, starting work on a new playground and rounding up computers for schools.
NBA Cares, the philanthropic arm of the league, plans to highlight its efforts on Feb. 13 with an All-Star themed "Day of Service." Other efforts will be woven into the packed schedule of events planned from Feb. 11 to 16.
The Feb. 15 NBA All-Star Game and the week's festivities are expected to bring 125,000 to 150,000 fans to the Valley and a much-needed, $80 million economic boost.
Charity is a league tradition
The NBA's charity work has long been a feature of All-Star week.
At last year's game in New Orleans, the NBA launched a special yearlong effort to help that city, which was still recovering from Hurricane Katrina. More than 2,500 people pitched in, generating 40,000 volunteer hours doing everything from building homes to giving kids new hearing aids.
When the Super Bowl was played in Glendale last year, the NFL led a similar philanthropic push. Among other things, it hosted youth football clinics and a literacy campaign and rehabbed homes.
In Phoenix, the effort won't be as big but will still have a significant impact, said Jonathan Hammond, an NBA spokesman. More than 1,000 people, including All-Star players, volunteers, NBA officials and executives from league sponsors, are expected to take part in service projects.
"We have always used All-Star (week) as a way to demonstrate our commitment to social responsibility and to making sure that the experience is one that involves the whole community," said Kathy Berhens, an NBA senior vice president who oversees community relations and player programs.
League officials declined to say how much money the NBA and its sponsors plan to donate to local groups.
But the value of many of the individual projects is over several thousand dollars. For example, remodeling work for one of five south Phoenix homes would have cost about $50,000, said an official from Rebuilding Together Inc., a non-profit that is also working on the project.
'It is really a blessing'
That's money that Ella Scott, 67, didn't have.
She and four other low-income homeowners in the neighborhood will get badly needed repairs. The work is being done by the NBA, Rebuilding Together, labor donated by construction contractors and other volunteers.
The woman, who lives 2 miles from US Airways Center, where the NBA All-Star Game will be played, has been washing clothes in her bathtub because her plumbing didn't work.
Last week, crews replaced a worn-out roof on her home, made plumbing repairs, replaced caved-in cabinets and installed new windows on the small 1943 house.
"It is something that I prayed for," said Scott, who has lupus and arthritis. "It is really a blessing."
New computers for schools
Schools will also benefit from donations with an NBA tie. Hewlett-Packard Co., an NBA sponsor, plans to give more than 40 computers to the David Crockett and Cesar Chavez elementary schools in Phoenix.
The equipment includes cutting-edge laptops that allow users to jot down notes on a tablet.
The 25 donated computers going to Crockett, where most of the children come from poor families with no home computer, would have cost more than $70,000, Principal Tammy Tusek said.
The school's computer lab has 10-year-old machines "that are on their last dying leg," Tusek added.
With the new computers, the students can do projects that help them build must-have technology skills.
"If you don't have these skills," Tusek said, "you don't have a foundation for high school and college."
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A very early look at the NBA playoffs
By TED SEVRANSKY
February 2, 2009
The Western Conference playoff race is basically settled before the All Star break. Heck, the playoff race was basically settled before Christmas.
There are nine Western Conference teams fighting for eight playoff spots. The Lakers are five games ahead of everybody else and a lock to make the postseason and my clear choice to earn the No. 1 seed.
The Spurs, Nuggets, Hornets, Blazers, Rockets, Mavericks, Suns and Jazz are fighting for seven spots. Minnesota is nine games behind Utah, the team currently sitting on the outside looking in. Golden State is eleven games behind the Jazz. The Grizzlies, Thunder, Kings and Clippers are all lottery bound teams once again.
Theres not much drama in the Western Conference this year and thats reflected in the current betting numbers. The Lakers are in the -120 range to make the NBA Finals and Id be hard pressed to find any reason or value betting against them. Either Phoenix, Dallas or Utah will be on the outside looking in when late April rolls around.
The Eastern Conference, on the other hand, is loaded with questions and drama as we approach the All Star break.
Theres a three-way battle for the No. 1 seed. That battle is even more important than usual this year, because the No. 2 and No. 3 seeds are likely to engage in a brutal series leading up to the Eastern Conference Finals. The No. 1 seed is likely to coast through the first two rounds, reaching the conference finals fresh and healthy.
I rank Cleveland and Boston a notch higher than Orlando. The Celtics won the title last year and the Cavs reached the finals the previous year. The key players on both squads know what it takes to reach that level of excellence in the postseason, while Dwight Howard and Co. have yet to reach the conference finals.
After the Big Three in the East, the rest of the conference is a jumbled mess.
The only team out of the dozen remaining squads that is absolutely out of the playoff picture is the hapless Wizards. That leaves eleven teams legitimately fighting for five playoff berths with only nine games separating the current No. 4 seed (Atlanta) from the current No. 14 seed (Toronto).
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