Lakers forward Kyle Kuzma is keeping his people front of mind and giving back to his hometown. The Flint, Mich., native took a trip home this summer, and while he was there he took time out of his schedule to stop by the local YMCA to surprise some kids.
The second-year sensation spent a day talking and interacting with those whose shoes he was in just years ago. Kuzma took some time to talk with The Crossover about his experience working with kids and expressed how he feels about his hometown being a national news topic.
Khadrice Rollins: How did it feel to come back to a YMCA in your hometown to surprise kids with such a good time?
Kyle Kuzma: It’s a lot to go back to the city that I was born and raised from and go back and try to surprise kids and really just try to inspire kids. I think that’s the main thing. It’s an incredible feeling.
KR: The Flint water crisis started to become a major national news topic around the same time you were getting your college career started at Utah in 2014. What was it like for you to see your city get attention for something of this nature and what type of conversations did you have during that time?
KK: It was a lot different for me—I was in college at the time so I didn’t have to deal with it. But my family members, close friends and community had to deal with the water crisis, and it was a major blow to the community, the economy and to Flint, Michigan, as a whole. It’s a place where most of the people within the city limits are predominately African-American and have to deal with such a water crisis is unreal, and it definitely affected a lot of people.
KR: When was the moment you knew you were going to be in a position to help inspire people and bring about positive change in your community?
KK: Right away—as soon as I got drafted. It doesn’t take much to inspire people or give back. A lot of people think it takes millions of dollars to give back or inspire, but just you showing up means a lot.
KR: What is the main thing about Flint that people on the outside don’t seem to understand?
KK: I think people need to understand that we help a lot of different third-world countries and other countries that are in need of help, that are poor, that are going through wars, and we have a city within our own soil of the country that has no clean water, and it’s been five years, and we haven’t done anything to really affect or change the outcome of that outside of just sending water bottles pretty much. So that’s the thing that’s kind of overlooked.
KR: When did you realize the role the YMCA played in shaping you as person?
KK: I was always thankful for the YMCA. Of course growing up, you don’t really think about it, because when you’re a kid you’re in your own world. But back then it was just so much. I’m going to go the Y, hanging out, playing games all day, playing basketball. But as you grow up you kind of realize it was a place that was violence-free, all the worries of the world were kind of lifted from you, and you could kind of just focus on being a kid and enjoying your childhood. So it’s a place that is special for me.
KR: Who were the everyday people in your community who brought about change and inspired you and played a role in pushing you?
KK: There were a few NBA players that kind of had basketball camps growing up. But outside of that, there wasn’t major givebacks and what not. But my high school coach, Earl Jordan, he really helped me out. As a role model he would pick me up, take me to workouts. Really just helped me along my journey.
KR: You have a pretty visible relationship with Lonzo because of how you two interact on social media. What is that relationship like?
KK: It’s a great relationship. We were rookies so we went through a lot of the same duties last year. It’s a great friendship to have on and off the floor.
KR: Elon Musk recently announced he would be donating water stations and filter systems to schools in Flint. How much have you kept up with that and have you thought about working with him in any way?
KK: I know a little bit. I haven’t talked to him or spoke to him about partnering up, but he’s doing a good thing for the city with the filters. But at the end of the day, you have to rip out every pipe in the city to fix or solve the solution. It’s kind of a minor thing, but it’s a step in the right direction.
KR: Do you have any favorite moments from your time at the YMCA that stick out?
KK: I always enjoy going back. I’ve been back twice since being in the NBA, and every time I go back I kind of get goose bumps. It’s a place where I spent many, many years, many hours, and there’s not necessarily a time or a remembrance, but going back this summer and doing the whole Y thing with the kids was a really special moment to me and really brought back a lot of memories for me.
KR: It’s not quite your hometown, but what was that feeling like to play an NBA game in Detroit for the first time?
KK: Growing up I was a Detroit Pistons fan, being from Flint. During, not the Bad Boys, but Chauncey Billups and Ben Wallace era, and growing up I always wanted to be a Piston. So to play on that floor was awesome. Kind of like a childhood dream.