Why the Detroit Pistons’ Monte Morris was compelled to support Tom Gores-sponsored Flint basketball court renovation

FLINT, Mich. - Detroit Pistons veteran point guard Monte Morris had to visit his hometown Saturday morning.

Morris, Michigan’s Mr. Basketball in 2013 and a former standout at Flint Beecher, had to show his support at the ribbon-cutting to unveil the renovated basketball court at William Durant Park, which was sponsored by Detroit Pistons owner Tom Gores’ FlintNOW Foundation.

As he strolled through the park on the north side of Flint, there was a big grin on his face as he saw the youths waiting to hear his message. After acknowledging Gores and the Pistons, Morris, who was recently acquired in a trade from the Washington Wizards, explained why giving back in Flint is important to him.

“For one, this is my city,” he said. “Secondly, I’m a Detroit Piston and anything I can do to impact the youth and impact the community, the community needs this. And we’re going to keep doing more like this to keep the community together and shine a light on it. We get a lot of negative publicity. It’s on me and I’m going to take pride in it all year to just do stuff around here and just get that juju back going around here. It’s easier now to do it now that I’m 45 minutes away.”

FlintNOW, created by Gores, who is also a Flint native, joined the Genesee County Parks and Recreation Commission and Flint native Jamiersen Green to unveil the refurbished basketball court.

“The best solutions always start on the ground, with neighbors joining hands and rolling up their sleeves to bring their vision and creativity to life,” Gores said in a press release. “I’m proud we could help bring this group together again to be impactful in another Flint neighborhood. Kids and families on the north side deserve more safe and inspiring places to play.” Durant Park is the third park to be refurbished under the partnership. Windiate Park was completed last summer and resurfacing at Riverside West Park located was completed recently. Funding for the projects was provided in part by a $100,000 grant from FlintNOW.

“I can't do these projects without grant funding,” Genesse County parks official Nancy Edwards said. “This court renovation was grant funded. Unless we have access to these grant resources, we can't make this happen because the city's budget doesn't allow for it.”

With input from community stakeholders, Green designed the Windiate Park court mural and the one unveiled Saturday.

The idea for the parks program originated with Green, an artist who had previously worked with the Pistons organization, and he approached FlintNOW about working together on the courts project.

Green was inspired by the passing of his mother.

“I thought about the qualities that she shared, which were love, joy, peace and power,” Green said. “That's how it became art, by using some of my own triumphs and struggles through this past year and adding onto what we did last year to elevate this one a little bit.”

The ribbon-cutting ceremony included a DJ, face painting for kids, a food truck and the Pistons held a basketball clinic for the roughly 50 youths in attendance.

Fifth-grader Gabriel Henderson said it was his first time at Durant Park.

“This is a place I’d like to play hoop at,” Henderson said. “I feel like a lot of people are going to come here; it’s a new court, but hopefully nothing gets messed up about it.”

Gores established FlintNOW to provide private sector support for immediate relief efforts during the Flint water crisis and for long-term programs focused on economic development, nutrition and health care for residents of the city. FlintNOW partnerships include a $2 million pledge from Gores and Consumers Energy to start the Flint Promise scholarship program, a $25 million economic development program launched with Huntington Bank, a healthy foods initiative created with the National Basketball Players Association and Michigan State University-Hurley Children’s Hospital Pediatric Public Health Initiative, and other campaigns that have provided millions of dollars in support to local Flint charitable organizations.