When Isaiah Whitehead arrived at his third annual cookout, the first thing he did was walk straight onto his custom-made black painted wooden floor to shake the hands of and exchange smiling pleasantries with those in attendance.
He even greeted the young players who were in the middle of a scheduled game upon his arrival.
At the parking lot of PS 288 in the Coney Island section of Brooklyn, New York, where the event took place, hundreds of people, including spectators, friends, fans and even media were present for “The Give Back”, Isaiah Whitehead’s sponsored summer phenomenon.
Seemingly every child in the vicinity wanted, and ultimately received, a picture with Whitehead, who has become the symbol that screams ‘if I made it, so can you.’
“It’s definitely huge for the kids to know that someone out here is rooting for them,” said the Lincoln High School class of 2014 alum at his cookout. “Basically what I try to do is show them the way – help them out. I came from here, I lived here my whole life, so I know what this is about.”
Back in March of 2017, Whitehead’s Brooklyn Net teammate, Spencer Dinwiddie, said that the most important thing his parents gave him was ‘the ability to dream’, along with the support to do so.
Whitehead has had that, and now he is that for the younger generation of New York City ballers, many of whom were present for “The Give Back” on Sunday, August 6.
“It was actually just a barbeque at first,” said Whitehead, offering a few moments in between constant, joyful interaction with his hometown supporters. “We had free food for everybody and the whole community came out. Now we’re here.”
Whitehead, 22, has always wanted to give back to the community, even before he became a standout rookie at the NBA level for the neighborhood Nets, a conveniently perfect match.
James Barrett, a former assistant basketball coach at Lincoln and founder of the Unsigned Hype Senior Games, has been close to Whitehead throughout his maturation process. Barrett labels “The Give Back” as ‘a true testament to the type of person Isaiah is’, because of his genuine desire to shine a light on the neighborhood, and the city as a whole.
“He’s really a kindhearted young man that wants to give back to the community,” said Barrett. “He feels like with these type of events, if he could help one of these kids in the crowd to possibly make it to where he is one day, or just be successful in life, not only in basketball.”
Barrett also spoke to the importance of the next generation witnessing, being around, conversing and interacting with Whitehead up close.
“With Isaiah having an event like this, it brings out a bunch of other people from the community who have been and are successful people,” added Barrett. “This gives the kids an opportunity to see that being from this community, you can make it and be successful. Most people don’t grow up and have an NBA player reach out and touch. Isaiah is here, not only to touch a lot of these kids’ hearts, but be somebody active in their lives.”
“It’s real important to me” Whitehead adds. “I want them to see that even though I’m in the NBA, I’m still a human being, I’m still going to be around. I’ve gone through the same things that they’re going through right now. I think that’s huge for them to see.”
It’s also huge for them to see Whitehead continue to progress at the NBA level, as everyone anticipates his second season as a Net, and training camp is less than two months away. The Brooklyn based perfectionist says he’s working on everything, because he hasn’t mastered anything yet.
As part of his maturation off the court, Whitehead now strives to excel in fatherhood as well. On May 12, his daughter, Zaria, entered the world, and at the young age of 22, he says he’s ‘motivated to be a great father.’
Recently, Nets head coach Kenny Atkinson says that he expects Whitehead to play a ‘Marcus Smart role’ with the team this season. Atkinson was talking about the gritty two-way guard from the Boston Celtics, who typically comes off the bench and provides substantial minutes with great effort on defense and versatility on offense.
“Whatever Kenny say goes,” Whitehead said of Atkinson’s thinking. “If that’s what he thinks I can be, then that’s what I’ll do.”
According to the aforementioned Barrett, that’s not just typical athlete jargon emanating from the 6-foot-5 combo guard, that’s a microcosm of his mental approach to basketball, and Brooklyn celebrates him because of it.
“Everybody is in 100% full support of Isaiah,” said Barrett. “He’s in it, he’s around, he comes out to events, he comes out to high school games – everyone feels like he’s going to do great in the NBA. We’re all proud of him.”
As far as his expectations for the season goes, the philosophy is simple; continue to progress. As far as Nets fans go, that’s music to their ears, especially considering how quickly the fan base has been re-energized post the Boston (trade) massacre.
“The team has definitely gotten better,” Whitehead said confidently. “We have a tremendous amount of talent, and I think we should win more games.”
As for Jeremy Lin’s prediction of the playoffs - “We’re making the playoffs. I don’t care what anybody else says,” Whitehead was his low-key self.
“That’s Jeremy just being Jeremy,” he said. “In the NBA, you never know.”
One thing we do know: As the ‘Isaiah Whitehead 15’ logo read at center court: “One Love, One Brooklyn.”
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