Talking with: Maurice Evans, Part I
UPDATE (8-6): We're on the road today, so expect a delay here and there in comments getting posted. We'll do our best to keep up, as will HQ.
As some of you may already know, Lakers swingman Maurice Evans recently took part in the NBA Player's Assn.'s "Feeding One Million" campaign, a partnership with Feed The Children to help provide food, clothing, medicine and other essential items to 1 million children in Kenya. Evans accompanied Ron Artest (Sacramento Kings), Theo Ratliff (Minnesota Timberwolves) and Etan Thomas (Washington Wizards) to Africa, embarking on an eye-opening journey into a plight and poverty most of us are lucky enough to find unimaginable. I caught up with Mo by phone a few days ago, and we discussed the goodwill mission, how the trip affected him on a personal level and, of course, hoops (Lakers or otherwise). Here's Part 1 of what he had to say:
Andrew Kamenetzky: How did you find out about the trip to Kenya?
Maurice Evans: Actually, I have been with Feed the Children already prior to that. They did the "Feed the 5,000," which was feeding 5,000 families in Oakland. We did that when I was in Detroit. We fed 5,000 families there. And last year, with the Lakers, we went to New York and a couple guys from the team were involved with that as well. (Players Assn. President) Billy Hunter knew that I had been involved in the first two and called me over the summer and asked me if I was interested in doing (the trip to Kenya), and I was like, "without a doubt." I wanted to help these people.
AK: Had you heard before about them looking to go overseas, or did this take you by surprise?
ME: I didn't know that they planned on doing a project that feeds 1 million people somewhere in Africa, something like that. When he told me about it, it just sounded like something special, something that I definitely would try to get involved in. It made it that much better to go to Africa to actually give it to people who can't really measure poverty, in my opinion. I mean, people are hungry and starving whether it's in the United States, whether it's in Europe or Africa -- it's all the same. But to be able to go over there and actually see how people are living there and to feel like you could make a difference, it was really cool.
AK: Obviously, you knew going over there that you'd be seeing people living in dire straits. But even with that in mind, was the level of poverty still shocking?
ME: Yeah. It was very shocking. Like I said, you can't measure poverty, but there's so much poverty amongst children. It's really eye-opening. For children, who obviously don't have a hand in what they've been dealt. They didn't have any part in the hand they're dealt, you know? There are children who have limited opportunity to even get an education that are in that situation. We went to the school when we first got there. This building is for educating children and it was one room, two chalkboards, rundown benches, just a long picnic table. The kids sitting there with probably one or two teachers trying to educate a room full of kids. There's no individual attention. There's nobody raising their hands and saying, "I don't understand. Can you explain that to me?" There was nothing like that.
And kids go as much for food as they do for the education. Even more so for the food, because they know that by going to school, the motivation is that you're going to get a meal while you're there. It was so bad that you eat that one ration and you have to provide your own bowl. And some kids couldn't even afford their own bowl, so they had to put it in their pocket. It was beans and rice, and the rice is submerged in, like, juice. So the kid's pockets is all wet and he didn't have any shoes on. And you see the kid with the bowl and he was trying to get as much as he can in it, because it's not only going to feed him but it's also gonna feed his brothers and sisters later that evening.
AK: Is that the worst thing you saw or did it even get more upsetting?
ME: Well, you know, the thing that's so crazy about the situation there was that as poverty-stricken as it was, there was still a bigger discrepancy between "the haves" and "the have-nots." Before we left, they did show us the nice areas in Kenya, where you have nice restaurants. We went on a safari for a couple days. We were able to go see their malls, some of their government buildings.
Probably one of the worst things we witnessed: We went to the Ray of Hope Clinic, and that's where the player's union actually donated money on behalf of all the NBA players. They have these people who have AIDS. And they also help out children, help these people out. I noticed there was a kid standing there who didn't have any shoes on. And he was right in this area called "the slump." "Slump" meaning exactly what it sounds like. Like "slump, that's terrible." And he was walking around barefoot. There's glass. There's rocks. It's hard walking there with shoes on, let alone without. I could see that he was cut all over his foot. I had a little bit of money with me, something like 250 bucks. I see this guy, a vendor, he's selling shoes. I just took the little kid over, tried to get him a pair of shoes. And it wasn't like they were Jordans. They were just like some shoes. Some leather shoes. We took him over to get those shoes and then the next thing you know, here comes another kid who didn't have shoes. And then another kid and another kid.
Before too long, there was a super-long line of kids, and they were realizing that they were going to get a pair shoes if they got in line before the money ran out. I felt so bad that I didn't have more money, you know what I'm saying? You just feel how much of a difference something just small like that will make in their life. When the kids had these shoes, you could just tell the difference. Now they're running around and playing. The kids are playing soccer, kicking a rundown soccer ball with no shoes. Now it seems like when they're playing soccer, they're excited. Little stuff like that.
AK: Did that almost feel surreal, because there are some guys in an NBA locker room who basically get a new pair of shoes for each game?
ME: Yeah. Exactly. It obviously put things in perspective, because even the shoes that we wear for multiple months and multiple games, by the time they're done, they're still in such great condition that anyone would love to have them.
AK: Did these kids know you were in the NBA? Does that mean anything to them?
ME: No. Because the NBA, nice cars, nice houses and lots of money, it's intangible to them. I don't even think they realize what that is. That's not a reality for them, the NBA. I bet you could bring some of the bigger stars that we have and they probably wouldn't be able to recognize them.
AK: Did they know you were basketball players?
ME: They knew we were basketball players, but they knew we were there to help. I'm sure they were extremely appreciative that we were there and we were able to help them out.
AK: Was it weird being there with three other NBA guys and not having people ask you about the Lakers? About Kobe? The NBA?
ME: It wasn't really strange to me, only because I knew what the purpose that we went over there for. It's almost like once we got there, seeing the area, the poverty, what we were in for, we didn't even think much about the fact that we were in the NBA anymore. It was almost like, we're here. Let's see what we can do improve the situation while we're here. Ron brought a video crew so he could document everything that went on and kind of take it in. I think that we did some good things while we were there. All four of us. Theo, Etan, Ron and myself, we all four had a really, really good experience. We really tried to do as much as we could and really tried to be involved with the kids.
AK: Ron learned about his upcoming suspension while you guys were over there. Did that put a damper on anything, or did the circumstances and surroundings make it feel insignificant in the grand scheme of things?
ME: I don't think it put a damper on it, because Ron did a really good job of doing the things to stay positive. He understood. Obviously, he's going to continue to grow and mature every day in this league. He still turned it into a positive. Everyone wanted to call and talk about the dispute that he had with his wife to get suspended. But all he talked about was the good that he was doing and bringing light to the fact that they need even more help over there and around the world. I think he did a really, really good job deflecting that and turning it into a positive.
AK: I read he's looking to build a house in Kenya, just so he can go back and keep tabs on things.
ME: Yeah. Well, I know he also donated money for the Ray of Hope clinic so they could build a lab there, so they can actually help with the medicines and administer them to people. That's one of the pieces they were really lacking. It only costs about $20 to deliver a baby at the Ray of Hope clinic. The people still couldn't afford to pay the $20. The problem is also that they don't turn anyone away. They're there to help people, so it's pretty much free. Also, when they deliver the babies, the problem isn't delivering the baby, it's that they deliver the baby and have the woman go to the recovery room for two to three hours. She'll just sneak out and leave the baby because she can't afford to take care of it. When you're dealing with issues of that magnitude, anything obviously helps.
AK: Did this trip make you think a little differently about the world or put certain elements of your life in perspective?
ME: To be honest, I can't really say that. I can't say that I didn't appreciate life or that I didn't appreciate being in the NBA, given how hard it's been for me. But it makes me want to succeed that much more, so that maybe I can be able to help out even more so on a financial level. I think it serves to be a motivation. Not that I lacked any at all, because I really want to be accomplished. I want to have a great year. I want to build upon the things that I did last year and I really want to expand my role with the Lakers. Just really make an impact for a long time in the NBA. So I think it just serves as extra motivation.
AK: It adds another level of what can come from those accomplishments, aside from the direct basketball results.
ME: It shows you what more can be done. It shows me that there's so much more that can be done. It shows me an extra path where I can really help and affect, in terms of people's lives.
AK: I imagine the answer is yes, but do you plan on staying involved with these programs?
ME: Yes. Like I said, I've been involved for the last three years, and I'm definitely going to continue to be involved and continue to help out in whatever way I can.
Part II to follow soon.