The Sweetwater Clifton ‘City Spirit’ Award pays tribute to local heroes who have made a significant difference in the lives of others. The award is named in honor of the late Knicks great, Nat “Sweetwater” Clifton, who was the first African-American to play for the Knickerbockers. Recipients of this award epitomize the same trailblazing characteristics of the Knicks Legend.
Winners will be recognized at center court at Madison Square Garden on a monthly basis throughout the Knicks season and receive a $5,000 donation to a charity of their choice.
April 2017: Massimo DiDonna
Massimo DiDonna was recognized on-court as the winner of the Sweetwater Clifton Spirit Award for the month of April. Massimo is the President of the Carl V. Bini Memorial Fund, which was created to honor Carl V. Bini. Bini was a New York City Firefighter of 18 years assigned to Rescue 5 in Staten Island who lost his life during the September 11th terror attacks. The Bini Fund supports the community through scholarships, emergency grants and special needs assistance. Since its inception, the organization has allocated more than $150,000 in scholarships and has opened "Carl's House," a free community resource center. The $5,000 donation will go towards the fund and its mission to continue Bini's lifelong belief of helping others.
March 2017: Nelba Marquez-Greene
The Knicks honored Nelba Marquez-Greene with the Sweetwater Clifton Award award for March. Nelba is a clinical fellow of the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapy and founded the Ana Grace Project in memory of her daughter, Ana Grace, who lost her life during the Sandy Hook tragedy in December 2012. The Ana Grace project is dedicated to promoting love, community and connection for every child and family through three lead initiatives: partner schools, professional development, and music & arts.
Nelba, a member of the Garden of Dreams family since 2013, was honored for her tireless efforts to bring to life the light and joy that her daughter embodied and to teach children the important skills of empathy and love. The $5,000 will go towards Nelba’s mission of helping to connect students with one another.
February 2017: Nicole Pulphus and Tiffanne Prentis
The Knicks recognized Nicole Pulphus and Tiffanne Prentis from Harlem for their positive impact on the community through the Riverside Hawks Youth Program. This program provides academic guidance and support for student athletes through afterschool and tutoring programs, promoting the development of strong moral character, and helping ensure the youth achieve their pursuits. Both Tiffanne and Nicole have encouraged excellence in sports as a way of advancing excellence in academics and assisting young people in becoming valuable contributors of their community. They will donate their $5,000 to the Riverside Hawks program.
January 2017: Lisa Fields – Linnen
The Knicks recognized Founder and Executive Director of Hands That Make a Difference, Lisa Fields-Linnen, for her dedication and commitment to work with the youth. Lisa has been devoted to enriching the lives of young people in Harlem for 28 years and created Hands That Make a Difference as a safe-haven for at-risk youth. Lisa believes that unity will save our community and the Knicks are proud to support her mission of youth development and growth.
December 2016: Abdul “Sleep” Johnson
Abdul “Sleep” Johnson was selected as December’s Sweetwater Clifton Award Winner. Sleep founded the Community Board Athletic Leadership League (C-BALL) when he noticed the lack of youth involvement on the Bronx Youth Community Boards, where he served as Parks and Recreation, Youth Services and Historical Outreach chairman. C-BALL focuses on specialized games and activities, as well as job development opportunities and mentorship programs that are structured to educate the youth within the community and make them aware of their civic responsibilities. Sleep was honored in December and will use the donation money to help fund free activities for youth in the community.
November 2016: Tony Hillery
The Knicks honored Tony Hillery as the November Sweetwater Clifton "City Spirit" Award recipient. Tony is the Founder and Executive Director of Harlem Grown. He founded Harlem Grown in 2011 to address the health and academic challenges facing public elementary school students in Harlem. Today, the organization serves over 2,500 students per year while growing and providing over 2,000 lbs. of fruits and vegetables to children and families in Harlem.
Tony was honored by Knicks Legend John Starks at center court of Madison Square Garden when the Knicks hosted the Dallas Mavericks on November 14th, 2016. The $2,000 donation will go to Harlem Grown to help support Tony’s mission of inspiring youth to lead healthy and ambitious lives.
APRIL 2016: MICHAEL AND MARC GUBERTI
The Knicks recognized Michael and Marc Guberti of Scarsdale, New York as the final Sweetwater Clifton “City Spirit” Award recipients of the 2015-16 season. The award, sponsored by ZTE USA, was presented by Allan Houston to the Guberti brothers on Wednesday, April 6 at the Knicks vs. Hornets game at Madison Square Garden.
Michael, a sophomore at Fordham University, and his younger brother Marc, a senior at Fordham Prep, partner with local corporations and entrepreneurs to host the annual “Teenager Entrepreneur Boot Camp” at Fordham University. The camp teaches youth how to identify their passions, create online and physical products, enhance their public speaking skills, boost their confidence and defeat their fears.
Through their efforts, Michael and Marc have instructed & inspired thousands of students in-person and online. The Guberti brothers have selected Derek Jeter’s Turn 2 Foundation and Eastchester Youth Soccer Association as the charities to benefit from the donation, in their name. As an added bonus, the CEO of ZTE, Lixin Cheng was present to match the Knicks donation, thus the charities will receive a total of $4,000!
MARCH 2016: TOMI THE DOG
The New York Knickerbockers honored Tomi the dog as March's Sweetwater Clifton "City Spirit" Award recipient, presented by ZTE USA, for saving his family from their burning home in October 2015.
The three-year old Shiba Inu saved his owners lives when he ran upstairs and jumped on their bed as their Hicksville, Long Island home caught fire and filled with smoke, while they were sleeping.
Julia Haight, Tomi's owner, is grateful for Tomi's instincts. “When there's a fire, every second counts,” she said. Tomi also participated in the Westminster Dog Show at Madison Square Garden in February 2016, so the Haight family has a lot to celebrate.
Tomi and Julia accepted the award on March 5 at the Knicks vs. Detroit Pistons game. Tomi is the first dog to win the City Spirit Award. On behalf of ZTE USA and the Knicks, Julia and Tomi are receiving a $2,000 donation to a charity of their choice as well as a ZTE SPRO 2 Smart Projector. The award money will go to The NYC Shiba Rescue, Inc, which is an all-volunteer group dedicated to contributing to the quality of life of Shiba Inu in and around the New York City metropolitan area.
FEBRUARY 2016: DR. LATASHA JONES
The New York Knickerbockers honored Dr. Latasha Jones, of the Bronx, NY, as February's Sweetwater Clifton "City Spirit" Award recipient, presented by ZTE USA, for inspiring her students to make a difference in their community.
Dr. Jones is a middle school teacher at The Walter Damrosch Day Treatment School in the Bronx, where she specializes in providing educational programs for children with social, emotional and learning difficulties and severe academic deficits. She not only educates her students in academics but also empowers them to be of service to others.
Four years ago, Dr. Jones decided to teach her students about the importance of giving back and joined Lead2Feed, a service learning program that nurtures a new generation of leaders, to show her students how impactful they could be to the lives of others. The Lead2Feed lessons provide opportunities for high levels of student engagement through collaboration, critical thinking, problem-solving, reflection and creativity. Jones and a group of students, also known as “The Feeding Angels,” raised a total of $35,000 to help feed members throughout the community who are in need. These acts of service provide her students with a sense of gratitude as they see firsthand the smiles that they put on the faces of those they serve.
Dr. Latasha Jones accepted the award on February 9th vs. Washington Wizards where Knicks Legend, Larry Johnson presented her with the Sweetwater Clifton medal. On behalf of ZTE USA and the Knicks, Dr. Jones is receiving a $2,000 donation to a charity of her choice as well as a ZTE SPRO 2 Smart Projector. The award money will go to The National Council of Negro Women Inc., Westchester Section.
JANUARY 2016: JOSEPH LEMM AND LEMM FAMILY
The New York Knickerbockers honored the late NYPD Detective Joseph Lemm as January's Sweetwater Clifton "City Spirit" Award recipient.
Lemm was a technical sergeant who served in the U.S. Air Force and joined the Air National Guard after being discharged, served one tour in Iraq and two in Afghanistan. On December 21, while serving in the Air National Guard, Joseph's patrol was attacked by a suicide bomber, killing him and five other Americans in Afghanistan. Those that knew Joseph best describe him as a real-life superman, embodying honor to the end.
On behalf of Joseph, his wife Christine, and two children, Brooke and Ryan, accepted the award on January 31st vs. Golden State Warriors. They were presented the Sweetwater Clifton medal by Knicks Legend John Starks as well as a ZTE S Pro 2 Smart Projector by ZTE USA Chairman and CEO Lixin Cheng. On behalf of ZTE USA and the Knicks, the Lemm family is receiving a $4,000 donation to the charity of their choice - St. Anthony of Padua Church.
DECEMBER 2015: THE PEREZ FAMILY
The New York Knicks have announced The Perez Family, of Brooklyn, NY, as this month's Sweetwater Clifton "City Spirit" Award recipients for volunteering their services to nonprofit organizations that benefit children facing life threatening obstacles. The award, presented by ZTE USA, is named in honor of Basketball Hall-of-Famer Nat "Sweetwater" Clifton, the first African-American to play for the Knicks, recognizes individuals who have made a significant difference in the lives of others. Each month a winner is chosen by members of the Knicks front office staff and honored at center court during a Knicks game with a $2,000 donation in his or her name made out to a charity of their choice.
In September 2014 The Perez Family lost their 13-year-old son and brother, Nicolas after he fought a three-year battle with brain cancer. The Perez Family wanted to give back to the same organizations that helped make Nicolas' life memorable by assisting families who are experiencing the similar pain and struggles of having a child with serious illnesses and disabilities. The family volunteers with “The Starlight Children's Foundation,” “The Children's Brain Tumor Foundation” and “The Garden of Dreams Foundation.” In April 2015, the family created “The Nicolas Perez Memorial Scholarship” to promote Pediatric Cancer Awareness and award graduating eighth-grade students from Nicolas' middle school, MS 442 Carroll Gardens School for Innovation, with scholarships to help them prepare for high school.
NOVEMBER 2015: BRIAN BEUTEL AND BEUTEL FAMILY
The New York Knickerbockers honored the late Brian Beutel, of Bergen County, NJ, as November's Sweetwater Clifton "City Spirit" Award presented by ZTE USA winner for his generosity and kindness gestures for the Bergen County community.
Beutel, father of five daughters, collapsed during the “Battle of the Blue” basketball game for the “Tomorrow's Children's Fund,” a nonprofit organization that assists children who are battling cancer. Beutel not only lectured his daughters on the importance of giving back, but he led by example. He served as volunteer coordinator for the adult basketball league in his hometown of Westwood for the past decade and he often sat outside of shopping centers raising money for local charities. The award money will go to “Tomorrow's Children's Fund.”
On behalf of Beutel, his wife Tamiko and five daughter, Vanessa, Olivia, Camilla, Sophia and Tatianna accepted the award on November 6th vs. Milwaukee Bucks. They were presented the medal and personalized jersey by Knicks Alum, Vin Baker as well as a ZTE SPRO 2 Smart Projector by Vice President of Strategic Marketing for Mobile Devices at ZTE USA, Andrew Elliott.
MARCH 2015: ANTONIO APONTE
The New York Knickerbockers have honored Boys Club of New York Educational Services Director and Latino College Expo Co-Founder, Antonio Aponte of New York, as the Sweetwater Clifton "City Spirit" Award winner for the month of March. The Latino College Expo elevates the educational aspirations of the Latino community by offering an array of specialized services tailored to their needs.
In 1990, Antonio co-founded the Latino College Expo Inc., to help equip students with the tools and information needed to gain college access and achieve educational goals. The expo consists of leadership seminars that discuss a variety of college planning steps, including the application process, standardize testing, financial aid, scholarships and college sports. To date, The Latino College Expo Disbursed Over $100,000 in Grants to High School Seniors in the NY Area. Antonio has chosen to donate his $2,000 donation to the Latino College Expo Inc.
Antonio was honored on at center court of Madison Square Garden by Knicks Legend John Starks when the Knicks hosted the Minnesota Timberwolves on March 19th, 2015.
FEBRUARY 2015: NADIA LOPEZ
Mott Hall Bridges Academy principal, Nadia López of Brooklyn, NY was February's recipient of the Sweetwater Clifton "City Spirit" Award winner. Nadia's dedication to her students' education encouraged an online fundraising campaign to raise money for an informative school trip to Harvard University that raised over $1 million, reaching the fundraising goal of $100,000 in just 45 minutes. The additional funds will go toward future academic trips and programs for Mott Hall Bridges students. She has chosen that the $2,00 donation will go to The Kids League of New York City.
Nadia received high recognition from community organizations and local leaders for the major role she plays in many students' lives. In a town where the graduation retention rate is historically low, Nadia's contribution helped Mott Hall Bridges Academy attain a 98-percent graduation rate.
Nadia was recognized on court at Madison Square Garden at the Knicks vs Miami Heat game.
JANUARY 2015: BARBARA STRONG
Barbara Strong, of Rock Hill, NY was January's Sweetwater Clifton "City Spirit" Award recipient for establishing the Allyson Whitney Foundation - a non-profit organization that empowers and fights for the interests of young adults with rare cancers. After losing her 25-year-old daughter Allyson to a long battle of small cell cervical cancer, Barbara wanted to turn her daughter's dream of helping others into a reality. With the support of family and friends, Barbara was able to start the foundation and raise money for the cause through events and donations. The Allyson Whitney 5k Walk/Run is the organization's biggest success, raising over $70,000 that included over 800 participants.
Barbara accepted the award presented by Knicks Legend John Starks at center court of Madison Square Garden at the Knicks vs. Charlotte Hornets match up. The award money will go to the Allyson Whitney Foundation to improve the quality of life and provide emotional support for young patients.
DECEMBER 2014: BRUCE BOYLE
Bruce Boyle Received the 2014 Surfers' Environmental Alliance “Friend of the Paddle” Award
Bruce Boyle, of Sea Girt, NJ was December's Sweetwater Clifton "City Spirit" Award recipient for his dedication with keeping the New York waters safe and his contributions to numerous environmental charitable events. Bruce is the developer and owner of Liberty Landing Marina in Jersey City, which was transformed to an emergency rescue command center during the September 11th attacks. Since then, Bruce has been dedicated to overseeing the bodies of waters that surround the New York area and serves as a consultant for the marine industry throughout the northeast. On December 16th, Bruce accepted the Sweetwater Clifton City Spirit Award presented by Knicks Legend John Starks at center court of Madison Square Garden. The award money will go to the Surfers' Environmental Alliance (SEA), which contributes to environmental preservation and numerous autism non-profits.
NOVEMBER 2014: COACH KEITH CAPUTO
Keith Caputo, of Center Moriches, NY was honored as November's Sweetwater Clifton "City Spirit" Award recipient for his fundraising efforts and warm support for people throughout his Long Island community. After the passing of his mentor and community hero, Anthony Parlato, Keith decided to follow Anthony's mission of helping someone each day. With the support of his family and friends, Keith started the “Helping Makes U Happy” charity to make a difference for members of local communities through fundraising, donations, and scholarship opportunities. Keith Caputo accepted the Sweetwater Clifton City Spirit Award presented by Knicks Legend John Starks at center court of Madison Square Garden. The award money will go to the “Helping Makes U Happy" charity to help support Keith's mission.
OCTOBER 2014: FELIPE LOPEZ
Felipe Lopez of Santiago, Dominican Republic, was the recipient of the Sweetwater Clifton "City Spirit" Award for the month of October for his continuous work helping to bring basketball efforts to the five boroughs. Lopez' greatest accomplishments are off the basketball court. After one of the most highly-celebrated high school basketball careers in New York City history at Rice in the Bronx, four years at his hometown St. John's University and a four-year NBA career, Lopez devoted his life to philanthropy. He has always felt a great responsibility to care for his communities - both with his Hispanic lineages and the New York boroughs. The self-founded Felipe Lopez Foundation is committed to establishing an environment for positive learning and healthy living, that includes providing youth with educational scholarships. He conducts clinics in local Hispanic communities and his weekends are spent at the Bronx Spanish Evangelical Church, teaching the neighborhood boys lessons to be used both on and off the court. Lopez' immense generosity earned him the title “NBA Ambassador” with the NBA Cares program.
Felipe Lopez accepted the Sweetwater Clifton City Spirit Award, presented by Knicks Great Larry Johnson, on center court at Madison Square Garden vs. the Toronto Raptors on December 13th. Lopez' award will be donated to Skyhoops Basketball and the Felipe Lopez USA Foundation.