‘A Great Place’

4th annual Pistons Care Telethon’s cause resonates deeply with Ben Gordon

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Before Ben Gordon signed a contract with the Pistons that made him financially secure for life, before he was a college All-American leading Connecticut to the 2004 NCAA title and before he joined a long list of basketball players who got their starts in the hoops hotbed of Mount Vernon, N.Y., he was a kid who needed a chance.

If Mount Vernon hadn’t been home to a Boys & Girls Club, who knows if that chance would have ever presented itself?

But there it was, just a few blocks from home, and it wasn’t only basketball that drew him.

There were computers – none were available to him at home. There were other kids looking to occupy their time – eager minds, eager limbs – with something other than the things that led to the trouble they could see around every corner.

“It was just a fun place to be,” Gordon recalls. “I couldn’t wait to go there after school and play some of the pickup games and meet with some of my friends, play against some of the older guys and really challenge myself.

“They just had a lot of activities going on. You could access a computer there. You could be involved in all kinds of different activities besides basketball.”

One of those Mount Vernon greats was Lowes Moore, who went on to star at West Virginia and play in the NBA. He wound up back in Mount Vernon at the Boys & Girls Club.

“I had some great mentors,” Gordon said. “Lowes Moore taught me the game from a cerebral level at a young age. He challenged me with different kinds of workouts. He just taught me what it was like to try to become a pro. I just liked to play basketball, but he saw that I was serious about it and I worked hard at it.”

The Boys & Girls Clubs of America isn’t in business to feed the NBA so much as to allow kids who might not otherwise see a path to pursue their dreams that opportunity. For Ben Gordon, it happened to be basketball. For others, the spark might be ignited by any number of other activities or educational experiences incubated at the clubs.

That’s the fire the Pistons hope to stoke on Friday, when they’ll host their fourth annual Pistons Care Telethon all day, starting long before they tip off at 7:30 that night against the new-look New York Knicks of Chauncey Billups, Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire.

The first three telethons have been enormously successful, raising nearly $500,000 each time for eminently admirable causes in feeding the unfortunate or providing dream experiences for children facing life-threatening situations. This one is special in its own way, nothing less than an investment in the future of Michigan, hopefully producing entire teams of future Ben Gordons who go on to rippling success across the spectrum of careers and endeavors.

The annual Pistons telethon has become an all-encompassing event at The Palace, drawing on every department’s resources – and resourcefulness. Nobody knows for sure how many employee-driven initiatives have sprung up – bake sales, bottle drives, jeans days – but the low end for estimates is 30.

The Human Resources group staffed the counters at the Auburn Hills Culver’s restaurant the other day for four hours, with Culver’s donating 10 percent of sales to the cause – also providing a wonderful platform to spread word of Friday’s event. The Automotion dancers worked the floor at the Red Ox near Oakland University on Tuesday and raised $3,500 in tips and calendar sales. In partnership with The League Michigan, more than 100 school classrooms took up a challenge to see which could raise the most money, with at least $10,000 garnered.

And on it goes.

“We try to give back – that’s what the Pistons organization does all the time,” John Kuester said. “It’s very important.”

Fifteen radio stations will broadcast live from The Palace throughout the day Friday to drum up dollars. TV stations and newspapers are donating advertising space. Fans will be given multiple opportunities to participate before and during Friday night’s game, through simple donations or other avenues. You can buy specially priced tickets for the game or participate in auctions at Pistons.com.

“It was a great way to stay active, meet new kids, stay off the streets and stay out of trouble,” Gordon said. “I still go back to this day to the Boys and Girls Club in the summertime when I’m at home. It was just a great place. It brings back great memories.”

For Pistons fans, Friday will be an opportunity to help create those memories for the next generation of Ben Gordons.