My job in DC gave me the opportunity to meet a bunch of interesting people, and in Haiti, it’s no different. Samuel Dalembert is a Haitian-American NBA basketball player who has been doing work in Haiti since before the earthquake. He took some time out of his busy schedule of being taller than most of the people in the United States to show NBC around some of the child-friendly programs that he supports in Haiti.
I’ve never met an NBA player before, so for me this was a first. Samuel was incredibly polite, friendly, and talkative, but the first thing that you notice is clearly his size. It’s no surprise that NBA players are big, but when you walk up to shake his hand and he envelops your entire arm with his pinky finger, you notice they are just huge. Like, “how is it possible for a human to grow that large” huge. I caught myself thinking more than once, “Where does he get his shoes?”, as they are clearly larger than my torso.
So when Samuel walked up to the basketball court where he first learned how to dunk, he started to shoot some hoops with some of the locals who had been bold enough to challenge him. The match ended with Samuel winning, due largely to the fact that he could swat down almost every shot his opponents decided to toss towards the basket. And as he’s walking off the court, drenched in sweat after his dominating win, I yell to him, “How ’bout a dunk!”, thinking to myself, ‘there is NO way he is leaving this court without showing us what we all came here to see!’
He looks at me with tired eyes, his faces dripping with sweat, and responds, “You wanna see a dunk?” “Uhh, yea!” I shout back. Someone throws him a ball and he turns back to the court. “Alright, then…” he says, and then lunges towards the basket. He takes a few steps (as he can cross the entire court with only 5 enormous steps anyways), crouches down, jumps towards the hoop, and then….*BOING*…the ball nails the rim and flies in the opposite direction. He had missed!
There was an audible gasp before everyone realized that we should be polite towards this NBA player that is opening up his world to us to show where he grew up. We all composed ourselves and then the ball was thrown back to Samuel. Not one to quit after his first try, he takes the ball, rears back and approaches the basket again….*BOING*….another miss! I was shocked. I thought this was one of the prerequisites to being an NBA player, kinda like a NASCAR driver has to know how to start his car.
He looked around gingerly, clearly understanding the expectations that had been cast upon him, and then took the ball again. He goes up, smashes the ball through the hoop, and we all cheer widely. He had done it, he had dunked the ball! (finally…) He grabbed a water and then sat down for a quick interview before we headed out.
And as we were loading up the cars I approached Samuel to thank him for everything. I stuck out my hand to shake his and he took his hand and stuck it up as high as he possibly could. Without missing a beat, I crouched down, lunged up, and gave him the highest high-five I had ever given. He looked down at me and laughed, “Well I guess white men can jump…”, he said. “I guess so!” I responded, as I hopped into the car.
The next day I was tasked to shoot video of Samuel in the Petionville Golf Course Tent City as he assessed the sports programs they have there for children. When he arrived he was mobbed with kids, some knowing who he was and others just interested in meeting a humongous man. I was asked to do a short interview with him, and just as we’re about to start he looks to a man selling ice cream and says, “Ice cream for everyone!!!”
Well, there were about 100 kids in the general vicinity, and in a tent city nothing spreads faster than word of free food, so it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know what happened next. The man selling the ice cream smiled nervously at Samuel and then the look in his eyes quickly turned from fear to anger as he became surrounded by dozens of hungry children. They start pushing and pulling at each other, each jockeying for the best position to grab their delicious free ice cream, and Samuel was forced to intervene, asking the children to line up single-file for the man. By this time the crowd of children had double, if not tripled, and the line stretched on for about 35 yards.
We did the interview and after finishing he walked up to the man handing out the ice cream and apologized. I looked at Samuel and gave him the “eesh” face, and he responded in kind, realizing that he may, or may not have just started a small child riot in the largest tent city in PAP. We moved along and parted ways, my time with an NBA player had ended.
And while this story taught me that NBA players are not perfect, it was nice to know that he’s just a regular guy with the best of intentions. Haiti is his home, and even if he spends his days running back and forth on NBA basketball courts in the States, his heart is always here. That says a lot for someone who made it out, and could have just decided to never look back. Instead he’s helping to get kids out of their homes (or tents) and playing sports. It’s a great idea, if you ask me, which I know you didn’t.