Philadelphia is a special place for me. It's where I was raised, learned about life and became the man I am today. It wasn't easy and I didn't have much, but it's all I knew, and looking back it was a great place to grow up.
I spent the better part of my early childhood in a small row home off of 21st Street and Chew Avenue a few blocks from LaSalle University. At the back of my house there was a fence with a hole in it. Behind the fence was the Belfield Recreation Center. It had everything—a gym, basketball courts, a baseball field, a pool—and I practically lived there when I wasn't at home or school.
Walking through Belfield and my old neighborhood today brings back so many great memories. Having a place to go in my neighborhood kept me straight, kept me out of trouble. The guys smoking and dealing drugs would leave us alone. They stayed in their area and we stayed in ours. Since I was an athlete I was protected and nobody bothered me.
Today there aren't many community centers like this in Philadelphia and other major cities. That's one of the many reasons why I'm so committed to working with Philadelphia Youth Basketball (PYB) to guide kids and keep them off the streets. We're in the process of building a large multi-purpose community center on the Logan Triangle that will serve the entire city. The PYB center will give kids a safe haven, hope and mentors who can steer them on the right path.
I look back at my childhood and my mentor is the reason why I'm standing here today. Mr. Ell (legendary Philadelphia high school basketball coach Bill Ellerbe) kept things real for me and guided me on a path to success. He was an elder I looked up to and was a presence at Belfield. Later, he was my high school basketball coach at Simon Gratz and helped me develop into a good player, but it was so much more than that. He taught me first about respect, about life. I'm not exaggerating when I say that he saved my life many times.
After I graduated from Simon Gratz, Temple University took a chance on me and I was very proud to put on that cherry and white jersey and gave my best to Coach Chaney. Through hard work on the court and in the classroom, I was the first person in my family to receive a college degree. After my college career, I played in the NBA for 13 seasons, including eight with my hometown Sixers. I spent six years as a NBA assistant and now I'm an assistant coach under Fran Dunphy at Temple. It's tremendously rewarding to recruit the Philadelphia area and connect with kids who grew up in similar backgrounds as mine. But most importantly it's incredibly gradifying to be able to make a difference.
Philadelphia is a tough place right now and kids today need guidance and a safe haven more than ever. Without places to go, without role models to set a good example, neighborhoods can become war zones and it's too easy for kids to go down the wrong path. I had a few father figures to make sure I didn't end up a statistic and now it's our responsibility to pay it forward.
The $25 million, state-of-the-art community center in North Philadelphia will do that. The 120,000 square foot facility will have eight indoor and eight outdoor basketball courts; a health and wellness wing with healthy foods, strength straining, a counselor and rehabilitation center; and an education wing complete with classrooms, a computer lab and a library.
This world-class youth center is what Philadelphia needs right now and I'm very excited to be a part of it. The city has given me so much—basketball, family, life—and I'm very proud to be able to give back.
Aaron McKie is No. 6 on Temple's alltime scoring list (1,650 points) and averaged 7.4 points in 3.3 rebounds in 793 NBA games. He's now a Temple assistant men's basketball coach.
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