With no games to play, and limited access to gyms, basketball courts and training facilities, players throughout the NBA are struggling like the rest of us to make the most of so much idle time. But instead of squandering his afternoons mowing down opponents in Fortnite or binge-watching Little Fires Everywhere, Boston Celtics rookie Grant Williams has poured himself into something much more meaningful: creating a virtual mentoring program for black and brown youth.
As Marc Spears of The Undefeated reports, after the NBA suspended its season in March, Williams returned to his roots in Charlotte, N.C., eager to uplift others impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. Mentorship had been invaluable during his own upbringing, and much like he had his parents, grandfather and coaches to guide him throughout his life, the 21-year-old was committed to extending the same compassion to others.
“I really just loved mentorship as a whole,” Williams told The Undefeated. “I have seen guys around the league doing it. I saw [teammate] Kemba [Walker] doing it with the Boys & Girls Club in Charlotte. When we played in Charlotte, he had 10 to 12 kids in the stands that he had been talking to and had touched their lives growing up. I wanted to do a similar thing, but in Boston and other communities.”
Williams then connected with MENTOR, an organization that has partnered with the NBA since 2014 and facilitates relationships between engaged adults and young people throughout the country, and began to mentor a group of six black and brown boys from Boston’s Mass Mentoring Partnership.
Their first virtual meeting took place on April 16, and while initially a bit awkward, the group eventually broke the ice and found common ground.
“I remember that each kid was pretty nervous or not really able to speak,” Williams recalled. “I had to stress to them the importance of being on time as well as being engaged, because some would just look around and not really pay much attention to the call or not have questions to ask. So, that first meeting kind of just established an identity for each kid.”
Over time, however, the group has grown more and more comfortable while establishing a true brotherhood and discuss everything from educational advice to providing each other with encouragement, to Williams’ struggles through his parents’ divorce and one of the teens experiencing the death of their grandfather.
“We just tried to be there for him,” Williams said. “It was definitely difficult. [...] So, for him to open up to tell us, we were all empathetic and were able to connect with him and worry about him on a deeper scale.”
Williams also makes it a point to provide the kids with his personal phone number, even though they habitually clown him about his clothes not being cool enough or the fact that he lives with Kemba Walker, yet Walker has yet to make an appearance during any of their virtual meetings.
“We’ve been doing this for four weeks and have learned a lot about each other,” Williams said. “You don’t remember everything you went through as a 15-year-old. Looking back, being able to share my experiences and looking at them has given me the opportunity to not only help them, but help myself by learning more about how I was thinking back then.”
He added, “Hopefully, I can give inspiration to them to do better in everything they do.”