More than Mr. Big Shot
Growing up in the Park Hill neighborhood, Denver native Chauncey Billups took part in outings that weren’t necessarily within the scope of his family’s household budget.
He rode the rides at Elitch Gardens and enjoyed concerts and fishing trips that were made possible because of someone’s willingness to give back to the community.
Though he didn’t always know who was writing the checks, Billups hoped to one day pay it forward.
"I grew up being in a community with a lot of good people who helped me get to the place where I’m at," the Nuggets point guard said.
"I always said that if I was lucky enough to make it (big), it would really be my duty to try to reciprocate the same thing to the young people out there today."
It wasn’t just a hollow promise.
Throughout his 13-year NBA career, Billups has made a point of donating his time and money in his hometown, as well as other cities he called home along the way.
His latest contribution comes with the dual launch of the Chauncey Billups Foundation and the Spread Her Wings Foundation, created and operated by his wife Piper. A fund-raising party was set for Friday night at Neiman Marcus in Cherry Creek.
The couple has three daughters, so the Spread Her Wings project is truly a labor of love as it targets girls entering their teen-age years.
"It’s something very near and dear to us," Chauncey said. "(Piper) wants to help them become leaders so they don’t fall victim to peer pressure and teen-age pregnancy, the things that most of the kids in our community are falling victim to."
As for his foundation, Billups said he wants to raise money to help underprivileged children and low-income families who can’t afford small luxuries that most people take for granted. He plans to work with a variety of organizations, but the specific relationships are still being cultivated.
If his own experiences as a kid are any indication, families will be treated to Nuggets games, amusement park rides and concert tickets.
"It stuck with me," Billups said. "A lot of times I didn’t know who (sponsored the trips), but that wasn’t the point. It was the fact that somebody had a big enough heart to do it."
On the court, Billups is best known for being named the 2004 NBA Finals MVP with the title-winning Detroit Pistons, but his leadership in the community has always been on a championship level.
His annual charity golf tournament in Detroit typically raises more than $100,000 for the Children’s Center, and he plans to continue to hold the summer event even though he plays for the Nuggets.
"I’m always going to be a part of that (Detroit) community," Billups said. "They were so good to me and I just know that’s a tough environment there. I’m always going to try to do some things in Detroit."
Closer to home, Billups plays an active role in the Porter-Billups Leadership Academy, which provides scholarship money and training to help inner-city youth prepare for college.
For his work in Detroit and Denver, Billups received the 2007-08 J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award, but many of his charitable endeavors go unpublicized.
"I do a lot of the things that I do without people knowing it’s me," he said. "I don’t do it for the write-ups, or I don’t do it for the TV (exposure). I do it because I want the kids to know there’s somebody that cares about them out there."
Which leads to the philosophical question: Is it an obligation for pro athletes to be role models?
"For me it is," Billups said. "That’s just who I am. That’s who I was raised to be. I can’t tell you that just because you play pro ball that you’re obligated to be a role model. It’s the smart thing and the right thing to do, but you’re not obligated to do it.
"People are going to look up to you, people are going to try to duplicate what you do, whether it’s good or bad. I like to hope that I’m sending a positive message."