Matt Bonner: Rocking On To Make A Difference

Ken Rodriguez is a San Antonio native who covered his first Spurs game in 1981 for The Daily Texan, the University of Texas student newspaper. He spent 26 years in the newspaper business -- 21 of them covering sports -- before joining the marketing department at Our Lady of the Lake University in 2009. His column will appear every Wednesday.

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Matt Bonner

Matt Bonner remembers the slab of asphalt with two hoops and lights as the “it” court in Concord, N.H. The “it” court in White Park is where Matt and brother Luke played pickup games in their youth. The “it” court is where their father, 6-foot-7 inch Dave, banged around in his day, where generations of kids before him swooped and dunked beneath the gaze of friends at the top of the hill.

The court sits in a 25-acre park that occupies a spot in the National Register of Historic Places. The surface and rims grew old and worn and fell into disrepair. Matt and Luke used their nonprofit to do something about that. The Rock On Foundation contributed funds raised through its summer benefit concert to help refurbish the court last summer.

When it was complete, pickup games resumed. Kids banked in shots off new glass backboards. Balls fell through professional grade rims. Crowds formed on the hill to watch the action below. “Everything was back to normal,” says Matt, a veteran Spurs forward, “the way it was supposed to be.”

To celebrate, Matt and Luke’s Rock On Foundation teamed up with another local foundation to hold a high school tournament -- “The Midsummer Classic” -- on the White Park court in July. Print and broadcast media covered the event. The Rock On Foundation had left its mark on another project. One television anchor introduced the story thusly: “The Bonner brothers are at it again.. … “

Matt and Luke formed the foundation in early 2013 to increase artistic and athletic opportunities in communities from San Antonio to Concord. The foundation has donated instruments for school music programs, distributed money to support the arts and funded start-up youth basketball teams.

“It’s cool, because the impact we can make with these programs is immediate,” says Luke, the foundation’s Executive Director.

Adds Matt, a foundation board member: “We want to create opportunities for kids to pursue their dreams. A lot of extracurricular activities, like art and music, are being cut from public schools.”

The brothers’ preferred method for raising money is fun. The Rock On Foundation stages benefit concerts and charity basketball games. Matt and Luke have refereed games in Concord, NH, and assemble artists for shows in Austin and San Antonio during SXSW, in New Orleans during NBA All-Star Weekend, and in Portsmouth, NH as part of their annual summer benefit concert series.

Before Luke retired from basketball -- a career that included stops in Europe and Austin with the Toros -- he and Matt staged an annual “Sneakers and Speakers” concert in New Hampshire to benefit local charities. Dime Magazine attended one event in 2012 and reported the following:

“Two hours from the start of his sixth annual Sneakers and Speakers charity concert, Matt Bonner was putting the final touches on the event’s silent auction and raffle. The final touches included standing on a milk crate to hang up an autographed Spurs jersey (Bonner is 6-10!), and writing with a sharpie on blank pieces of paper what the actual silent auction and raffle items were. Bonner was not asking the staff of the venue, Plymouth, New Hampshire’s The Flying Monkey, to help; he was doing it all by himself. ...

“But this is typical Bonner. Hard work and dedication brought him all the way from New Hampshire to the NBA, so why should he change his work ethic now?”

Hard-working Matt adds a dash of Red Mamba fun to most Rock On Foundation events. At last year’s South by Southwest music festival, he donned dark sunglasses and joined The Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band on stage with a tambourine. And when former Spur Stephen Jackson (STAK 5) and rapper Bun B performed, the Bonner brothers joined several other Spurs onstage to support their teammate.

“That was pretty awesome,” Luke says. “It was one of those moments, ‘did we really just get a shout out from Bun B and Stephen Jackson?’ That was probably the coolest Matt ever felt.”

Ever since, it’s become Rock On tradition for Matt to jump on stage, typically shaking a tambourine, on or off the beat. He’s joined Deer Tick in Portsmouth. He’s joined Okkervil River in Austin. One time, he declined an invitation.

“Mobb Deep wanted us to get on stage, but I didn’t do it,” Matt says. “I chickened out on that one. Why? It’s Mobb Deep. They’re like icons.”

Matt’s musical tastes run the gamut. Classic Rock. Indie Rock. Blues. Country. He enjoys Springsteen and the Beatles, The Walkmen and The War On Drugs. He especially enjoys bringing Indie artists to New Hampshire -- where few Indie rockers perform -- to raise money for art and athletic initiatives.

“That brings me a lot of happiness,” Matt says.

The Bonners have turned their passion for music into gifts that touch and inspire. Not long ago, Luke dropped off an electric guitar to a music school in New Hampshire. An email awaited him when he returned home.

A teacher at the music school had given a lesson to a student who did not have an instrument. The student left with the guitar Luke had donated.

One gift at a time, the foundation rocks on.

Click here to learn more about the Rock On Foundation