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Harrington uses shoe line to give back to community

By Adena Andrews,
Posted Aug 10 2009 5:46PM

Demitric Lawson, 12, is your average kid from the blue-collar neighborhood of Southwest Atlanta who recently devised a plan to earn enough money to purchase a pair of sneakers he had coveted for more than a month. Lawson saw a sneaker commercial one day and thought to himself, "I could have those."

He hustled around his neighborhood washing cars, dogs and running small errands. Lawson then used the money he earned to buy a lawnmower to mow lawns. Within a month, Lawson had enough cash for the kicks and dragged his mother to K-Mart, where he picked up two pairs of sneakers for under $60. In these tough economic times, that is music to anyone's ears.

What commercial was it that this young entrepreneur saw that piqued his interest? A commercial for Al Harrington's new discount sneaker, Protege. Harrington, the Knicks' leading scorer last season, is focused on giving back to his community one high-top sneaker at a time with his affordable shoe line.

Protege, which stands for People Reaching Out to Everyone Gaining Everything, is sold nationwide at K-Mart and Sears stores for a very reasonable $34.99 for men's shoes and $24.99 for boys.

Harrington drew inspiration to create the discount sneaker brand from his humble days growing up in Roselle, NJ.

"I was raised by my mom who had three kids and was a single parent and I was the oldest and I remember times when she would give me $200-300 and tell me to go school shopping for my brothers and sisters," Harrington said. "At that point, I had to make the decision whether I was going to buy some Jordan's for myself or go get something for everybody. It was tough."

"Now I'm glad I'm in the position where I'm blessed as an NBA player and can make a shoe that is affordable for the masses."

Harrington also sprouted from 5-foot-10 to 6-foot-2 his freshman year of high school, which earned him a spot on the varsity team, but also made it expensive for his mom to keep up with his footwear.

By offering the shoe at a discounted price, Harrington is allowing kids like Lawson to feel empowered by being able to earn their own money and afford their own shoes.

"Say a kid finds out Friday that he has a date or a party to go to on Saturday and his sneakers are busted. He could get up that day and mow lawns, rake leaves or whatever and then go buy himself a fresh pair of Proteges by that afternoon."

Harrington is not the first NBA player to venture into the realm of discount sneakers. Shaquille O'Neal started in Walmart stores with his first discount sneaker brand, Shaq in 1992, and followed it up with the Dunkman in '01. In 2006, ex-Knicks guard Stephon Marbury released his Starbury shoe line at Steve & Barry's sporting goods stores.

To ensure that Proteges reach consumers, Al Harrington has launched a Protege Block Party bus tour where kids can become high flyers on lowered rims, take pictures in a locker room scene and learn different activities to be healthy in their daily lives. The block party is set up in K-Mart parking lots, making it convenient for block party goers to purchase the shoe.

The tour has some recognizable faces, too. The Warriors' Stephen Jackson, who played with Harrington in Golden State and is a long-time friend, is a Protege spokesperson and joined Harrington on the Atlanta leg of the tour, as did Hawks legend Dominique Wilkins.

NBA legends Earl "The Pearl" Monroe, Bill Laimbeer and B.J. Armstrong are also scheduled to join the fun. Bronx-born rapper Fat Joe, who designed a signature Protege shoe, will also jump on the tour in some spots.

Jackson took a moment during the tour to reminisce about what he had to do to grab the latest kicks as a kid: "Beg. We had to beg our mom. Cut lawns or something. We had to figure it out how to get the shoes we wanted to play basketball in.

"With the Protege line, it makes it easy for a lot of kids to feel comfortable and feel good about the shoes that are on their feet and I wish I had that when I was younger."

Harrington and Jackson wear mean scowls on the court, but the duo sells their product with beaming personalities and smiles. During their recent Atlanta tour stop, the two inseparable big kids hammed it up all day and couldn't stop cracking jokes on each other while signing autographs. Harrington stopped to do the "swag and surf ", a popular hip-hop dance, as kids jammed to the block party D.J.

However, Lawson one kid that you didn't catch in the dance circle. He was too busy attempting a dunk on the 6-foot hoop and was on the main court practicing his jumper and perhaps was devising his next business plan.

"Al Harrington is my favorite player and I want to grow up to be a basketball player like him and start my own charity and business," Lawson said.

He'll have some mighty big Proteges to fill one day.

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