Visit to Beijing school inspires Nuggets players
Carmelo Anthony grew up in one of the toughest neighborhoods in Baltimore, where drugs, violence and poverty were part of the daily landscape.
Compared to the living conditions he saw during a community outreach project in Beijing, Anthony never knew he had it so good.
"That makes Baltimore look like Hollywood," he said Tuesday.
While two exhibition games against Indiana were the primary focus for the Nuggets last week, a trip to a low-income neighborhood in Beijing on Oct. 10 served as an eye-opening – and inspirational – experience for Anthony and his teammates.
The Nuggets played ping-pong, read stories and interacted with students at the Chunfeng Primary School, attended by the children of migrant workers.
The students used wooden crates for desks in their barren classrooms, but their meager supplies and surroundings didn’t seem to dampen their mood during the Nuggets’ visit.
"They was laughing and joking, playing games, telling stories," Anthony said. "When you see them laughing and joking and smiling and not complaining, it makes us think twice about complaining about anything."
Nuggets forward Kenyon Martin said the dusty classrooms and dilapidated buildings near the school reminded him of his own experience growing up in the projects of Oak Cliff, Texas, a low-income Dallas suburb.
"I was saying to people, `I thought I had it bad growing up,’" Martin said. "Some of that makes you who you are. I just hope they make the best of it. I wish them the best."
As part of the NBA Cares program, the Chunfeng school received a new library and a basketball court. For most of the students, it was the first time they saw a basketball, let alone held one. Basketball served as Martin’s ticket out of the projects, and he said he would be willing to make additional donations to aid the Chinese students.
"I don’t think it’s going to stop with just one library and one court," Martin said. "They can use more desks and things like that. You look at some of the things they have to sit on and use as a desk, they were little crates, basically."
"The whole thing was like, `Wow!’" Billups said. "It made you appreciate where you’re from and it made you count your blessings."
During their week in Taiwan and China, the Nuggets visited the usual tourist spots – the Great Wall of China and Tiananmen Square – but none seemed to have the impact of the school visit.
"It’s a better feeling to see the real culture, the real parts of Beijing that you never hear about," Billups said "Those are the areas you want to have most of your influence on."
It’s a sentiment shared by Nuggets center Nene, who is familiar with similar conditions in his native Brazil. He said some schools there are so poor, they don’t even have classrooms: "They take class under a tree."
Nene was touched by the collective upbeat attitude of the Chinese students, and it reinforced his belief that his biggest impact will be made off the basketball court. Given the choice between buying additional luxury items or helping someone less fortunate, Nene said he would choose the latter.
"I prefer to help the person, because you can change a life," he said. "One life is more valuable than all the money in the world."