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A busy time in Brooklyn: Isaiah Whitehead plays the game, serves Coney Island

Los Angeles Clippers v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

It’s been a whirwind for Brooklyn native Isaiah Whitehead since that June night when he was drafted then traded to the Nets. Then there was the press conference to introduce the Nets’ first Brooklyn-born player in July. After that, it got even busier, not just in Industry City, where the Nets practice, but in Coney Island where he grew up.

Let him explain...

In August, I hosted a cookout for the entire neighborhood, bringing in clowns, jungle gyms and a photo booth for the younger kids. And I had three basketball games for the top local talent—for girls, middle schoolers and high schoolers. Then I did a back-to-school and supplies giveaway in September. And last month, I organized a Thanksgiving event delivering turkeys and serving meals, as well as a holiday shopping spree for local kids, taking them to Modell’s to buy clothes so they could stay warm this winter.

If that seems like a lot of community work for a player, a rookie even, it is, but as Jared Zwerling of the players union writes, it shouldn’t be a surprise. The 21-year-old Whitehead is proud to be the first real BROOKLYN Net. But it’s not just that. It’s his personality, his character.

“He wanted to come to Brooklyn just to give back,” his mother, Ericka, told Zwerling. “He’s touching a lot of people. When you have somebody that’s done it before, you tend to work harder. Isaiah is giving that encouragement that, ‘I’m still here.'”

The Nets loved him for his character as much as for his skillset. He was the MVP of Seton Hall’s Big East Championship ... but he has also taken pride that he made the Big East All-Academic team, too.

In his interview with Zwerling, he talked about how thrilled he was to become a Net, that it was a dream come true, and one that was most unexpected. The Nets had met with him two days before the draft and told him how much they liked him and hoped to get him. His agent told him he was going at No. 42, but wouldn’t tell him by who. He assumed it was the Jazz, who had the the 42nd pick. He was walking to the interview room when he slowly began to realize he wasn’t flying to Salt Lake City but taking the subway a few stops.

“So as I’m walking off the stage and going back to the media, the Nets people stop me and they’re, like, “A couple people want to do an interview with you.” And I’m, like, “That’s weird. I didn’t get picked by you.”

“So as I’m being interviewed, they introduce me, like, “Our new draft pick Isaiah Whitehead.” And I’m, like, “What? New draft pick?” And then I walked into the interview room and I still have a Jazz hat on. They’re asking me questions about the Jazz and I’m, like, “What’s really going on?” So then I was told, “You’ve been traded to the Nets.” I was speechless.”

He’s had a much bigger role than he anticipated. He actually feared that if the Jazz kept him, he’d be D-League bound. Instead, because of injuries to Jeremy Lin and Greivis Vasquez, he’s started 12 NBA games, played 410 minutes.

He’s had some good days, few as good as last week when his jersey number was retired at Lincoln High...

He’s had some bad ones, but none as bad as he did in Coney Island. “There were times we had no hot water, couldn’t shower. It’s just the struggle in Coney Island. “

With Lin expected back this week, Whitehead’s role with the Nets will recede, but not his role with the kids and their parents who live in Coney Island.