Blanks to Embark on Trip to Africa

By Stefan Swiat, Suns.com
Posted: Aug. 24, 2011

With Basketball without Borders celebrating its 10th anniversary with three camps this summer, Suns GM Lance Blanks was chosen as one of the lucky few to take part in the program's camp in South Africa. Along with Blanks, hoops legends Patrick Ewing, Alonzo Mourning, and Dikembe Mutombo will be making the trip over to Africa on behalf of the NBA. Blanks, who has participated in Basketball without Borders several times, sat down with Suns.com to talk about his experiences with the program and his upcoming trip.

Suns.com: How many times have you been to Africa with Basketball without Borders?

Suns GM Lance Blanks: I’m not sure how many times, actually. I have to take a look back because there have been so many. I’ve been to Africa about a dozen times. I’ve been to Senegal, Egypt and some other countries.

Suns.com: Have you been looking forward to this upcoming trip for some time?

Blanks: Yes. Love it. I enjoy going over there. It’s always a very exciting time of the year for me to just go over there and experience it. There’s a lot of goodwill that the NBA offers. And also there’s a basketball piece to it because of the kids you get to observe. You also get to work with other teams’ scouts and personnel, as well as people from the league. So it’s a good trip.

Suns.com: What convinced you to take part in Basketball without Borders the first time and then caused you to return for more trips?

Blanks: I just think that I was curious. It was intriguing to me. I liked the idea of learning about that region of the world, trying to expand my wings and going beyond our borders. No pun intended. All of those were drivers in wanting to be a part of it..

Suns.com: Is there something more intriguing basketball-wise or socially about Africa than the other places Basketball without Borders visits?

Blanks: With the actual program, Africa made the most sense to me because we will often scout some of the other areas like South America or Eastern and Western Europe. Whereas, you don’t scout Africa as much. So it created an opportunity to be able to spend some time there, learn the lay of the land and learn how things are done there. Not only would I be able to do that from a basketball standpoint, but also just from a life standpoint.

Suns.com: Is there anything interesting that you've done with your personal time there like going on a safari or something like that?

Blanks: I have. Usually, because you go so far, I usually like to go a day or two early and stay a day or two later. The first time I went all the way down south to South Africa. That was pretty interesting because we ended up going on a safari. Some other NBA folks went and we just had a wonderful time bonding with them and just experiencing the safari. Usually I will take a family member, or someone that I’m close with and go a little early and stay a day or two later. It’s hard to do it all in four or five days.

Suns.com: Has there been anything noteworthy that’s occurred on one of your trips there? For example, Suns Head Coach Alvin Gentry once mentioned having met former South African President Nelson Mandela on one of his trips.

Blanks: (NBA Senior VP of International Basketball Operations) Kim Bohuny and the NBA do such a great job and on one of my trips they created an opportunity to meet Nelson Mandela. So we took photos and spent time with him. And while we’re there, we're also able to just see the landscape. We were able to see and touch lions. They have a lion park there. And you’re able to ride elephants. I could go on and on with experiences. Cape Town is one of the most beautiful places in the world and we were able to see that and experience that too.

Suns.com: Did anything in particular about Mandela strike you? Was there something about what he said, did or carried himself that made an impression on you?

Blanks: He just had a unique presence about him. It’s probably hard not to have a unique presence about you when you have the history that he has. But just the way he carried himself was quite unique.

Suns.com: Your daughters just recently returned from the Basketball without Borders trip in Brazil that Coach Gentry attended. What were their thoughts about their experiences there? And since you were obviously a catalyst for getting them involved in the program, what was your idea behind that?

Blanks: The idea behind that was that both Riley and Bryn love to travel. They’re soon to be 18 and 21. Actually this month, Bryn will be 18. She’s a high school senior and Riley is a college junior. She’ll be 21 in November. Both girls love to travel and explore. They’ve both done a lot of traveling with me and this business. Their knee-jerk reaction was just the ‘wow factor’ of going, meeting new people and diving into the culture. They loved Basketball without Borders and the video work that they did down there. Bryn actually speaks Spanish, which is different than Portuguese, but there is some overlap so she could communicate and translate. So they were able to work in videography at the camp and conduct interviews. I have a bunch of pictures of them when they went exploring too. We also have some other friends that are connected there, just toured the land and learned tons about it. It was a great experience for both of them.

Suns.com: Could you see them working for Basketball without Borders in the future?

Blanks: Potentially. They’d have to convince the staff that they’re worthy of an opportunity to do that. But sure, just simply because they love to travel. They also get accustomed and assimilate quickly to new environments.

Suns.com: So when you attend these trips, do you think you make more of an impact from a basketball point of view or from a cultural aspect?

Blanks: There’s an impact on the basketball side, but it’s not real huge. As far as the impact on the community, it’s pretty big because the NBA will give away things. They do workshops, visit communities that don’t see people coming in often, and donate time, energy and money just to help. You impact both because the kids that come, go back to their communities with things that they’ve learned and the ways that they’ve grown. Those kids have experiences that most of the other kids will never have.

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