By Marc Raimondi
There was one kid a lot bigger than the others. He was there, rolling around on the ground, wrestling with the other kids. He was there, dribbling a basketball, playing around with the rest on the blacktop. Then he rose up, jumped and did what those other kids couldn’t. He dunked the ball, to the delight of those smaller than him.
It wasn’t just size that separated this kid from the ones around him. This kid was Royal Ivey, who just signed a contract with the Philadelphia 76ers, and reached the pinnacle of his sport — the NBA. And this kid grew up only blocks from the others in Hollis.
“I’m a big kid at heart,” said Ivey, at his first annual clinic for kids ages 6 to 15 at IS 192.
A few months ago, Ivey’s father, Rod, had a bit of an epiphany. He was walking down the street and got into a conversation with a local boy, who he didn’t know too well. Rod Ivey told the boy that Royal Ivey, who will enter his fifth season in the NBA this fall, was his son and was shocked at the kid’s response.
“He lived two blocks away from us,” Rod said, “and he didn’t know who Royal was.”
That’s when the wheels started turning in Rod Ivey’s head. How many kids in Hollis don’t realize that an NBA player who starred at the University of Texas and Cardozo grew up only yards away from them? How many kids who attend PS 118 or IS 192 don’t know that an NBA player went to the same school?
For Rod, it wasn’t about getting his son publicity in the community. It was about giving kids some hope — the thought that they could be just like Royal Ivey. So Rod and local mainstays Chuck Vance and Hosea Givan organized the first annual Royal Ivey Basketball Clinic and Tournament. The program, completely funded by the NBA veteran, ran Aug. 11 through Aug. 15 at Hollis Playground at 205th Street and Hollis Avenue.
“This means everything to me,” Royal said. “Without the opportunities I was given, I wouldn’t be in the situation I’m in now.”
The clinic ran for only a week, but it was completely free for kids. There was plenty of learning going on in all the age groups and the tournament games drew pretty big crowds — mostly parents excited to see their sons play with an NBA player looking on.
“It means a lot to me,” said Grequan Carter, 14, who lives a few blocks from where the Iveys live. “It means that anybody from this neighborhood could do it … I could end up just like that if I work hard.”
It wasn’t just Ivey’s money or attention that made the difference during the weeklong event. It was his personality, too. He was an education major at Texas and he loves children. Rod says his son wants to open up a charter school at some point.
“How many kids have met an NBA player that they can talk to?” Cardozo coach Ron Naclerio said. “Royal should be really proud of all that he’s accomplished — he should be just as proud of this.”
Despite the good time everyone seemed to be having as the learning went on, Rod Ivey, an admitted rookie when it comes to things like this, wasn’t satisfied with how it all went. He and Royal want to make this an annual event for the youth of Hollis. And the two are ambitious about what it could be. Rod wants it to be a place for kids to go without worrying about AAU affiliations and sneaker companies.
“Next year, it’s gonna be better, because this year I had no idea what I was doing,” Rod said with a laugh. “I want it to be pure, unadulterated.
Those were two good descriptions of Royal’s bright smile when he was horse playing with the kids. It’s his neighborhood, his school and now his kids, too.
“This is my junior high school, I lived 10 blocks away from the school,” Royal Ivey said. “I’m from the neighborhood. I want to give back. That’s what I’m all about.”
Reach Associate Sports Editor Marc Raimondi by e-mail at [email protected] or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 130.