As he prepared to take to the links at Benvenue Country Club on Saturday morning, basketball legend James Worthy recalled how the countless hours he spent as youngster at the Gaston Boys & Girls Club had molded him.
“Basically, we all grew up in the Boys & Girls clubs,” said Worthy, an NBA champion who was among the athletes participating in this year’s Phil Ford Golf Classic Gala.
Worthy was among the notable athletes whose lives were personally impacted by similar clubs, which inspired them to participate in this year’s gala to benefit the Boys & Girls Club of Nash/Edgecombe Counties. The event drew a record-breaking number of participants.
“The only reason we’re given the platform is to give back,” said Worthy, who was a University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill standout basketball player and a part of the NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers. “That’s why we come back. It makes no sense to be supportive your whole life and not come back and give support.”
Since retiring from basketball, Worthy, who was named one of the top 50 NBA players of all time, has been working in Los Angeles as a basketball announcer and has formed the James Worthy Foundation.
He has been encouraging children to spend a little less time on the field and the court and more time in the classroom.
“Our kids are being brainwashed into thinking they can be the next Kobe (Bryant) or the next Jay-Z,” Worthy said. “And they really have a better chance of being an astronaut, so we have to prepare them for that instead of preparing them to be athletes all the time.”
Worthy was among the many former UNC-Chapel Hill basketball players who came to Rocky Mount for the gala.
Worthy said that Phil Ford, a basketball legend at UNC-Chapel Hill, was his idol when he was in middle school.
Ford said Saturday morning he was pleased with the turnout.
“It’s going great,” he said. “We had a lot of support Friday night.”
Tickets to Friday night’s dinner and cocktail party at the country club were sold out a month in advance. Former Tar Heel and current Indiana Pacer Tyler Hansbrough was the guest speaker.
Tony Orr, the director of operations for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Nash/Edgecombe Counties, said the dinner and cocktail party on Friday night couldn’t hold any more people.
Last year, the event drew 225 people. This year, it drew 320.
“We went to the max until they told us to stop (allowing people in),” he said.
Orr said the final numbers on how much the event generated for club scholarships won’t be known for a few days, but there is a good chance the amount has exceeded last year’s $100,000.
“Our community has supported us again this year, and that’s all we can really ask from them,” Orr said.
This year, all of the athletes who had committed to coming showed up, he said.
Among those who participated:
Rasheed Wallace, who played at UNC-Chapel Hill before joining the NBA, where he played from 1995 to 2010. He won an NBA championship with the Detroit Pistons in 2004.
Chris Corchiani, who played for N.C. State University and has played for the Orlando Magic, Boston Celtics and Washington Bullets.
Walter Davis, a standout college player at UNC-Chapel Hill who was selected to play on the USA men’s basketball team coached by UNC’s Dean Smith that won the gold medal at the 1976 Summer Olympics. Davis spent 15 years in the NBA, spending the bulk of those years with the Phoenix Suns.
Davis, who traveled from Denver to be at the event, has attended Ford’s event all four years. Before dinner Friday night, Davis said he came to the event to support Ford.
“It is very important that the Boys & Girls Clubs is supported by the community,” he said.
Attending the event for the first time was Rocky Mount native Herman Boone, who is famous for coaching at T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria, Va. Boone was portrayed by Denzel Washington in the 2000 film “Remember the Titans.”
Boone said he did everything he could to attend this year’s event.
“This is one of the first years that I’ve been free to come back home and participate in this activity,” he said. “And I am just tickled to death. I just turned everything down so I could come back home to make a contribution.”
Boone said it is critical for a community to support a cause like the Boys & Girls Clubs.
“The Boys & Girls Clubs is an organization that teaches our young kids, first of all, to be good boys and girls, so they can be good men and good women who can make a contribution to their society — people who can make a difference,” he said.
That is a critical message to convey to young people, Boone said.
“None of us will ever affect the break of day, and when the day does break, and you do not make a difference, then take your butt back to sleep,” he said. “This is what we have to teach our young children.”
Not all of the athletes attending the event played at UNC-Chapel Hill.
Former Maryland basketball player and Greenville native Keith Gatlin also attended the event.
“It’s a great cause,” said Gatlin, who in February 1986 scored an easy layup after catching his own inbounds pass by bouncing it off the back of UNC-Chapel Hill defender Kenny Smith on the final play of Maryland’s overtime victory at North Carolina.
Gatlin, who also played for the Milwaukee Bucks and Indiana Pacers, said he noticed more people participating in this year’s event than last year.
“Phil does a great job with this,” he said.
Local sports superstar Danny Talbott was honored at the gala.
In the mid-1960s, Talbott played quarterback on the football team and first base on the baseball team for the Tar Heels, earning First Team All-ACC honors in both sports.
Talbott said he was thrilled to be honored at the event, but it is really about the kids who will benefit from fundraising.
“It’s about raising money for them to be able to participate in the Boys & Girls Clubs and keep it going,” he said.
When he was growing up, he spent a lot of time at the YMCA, which impacted his life in a positive manner just as the Boys & Girls Clubs does for children today, Talbott said.
“It structures you for the rest of your life, and I think that is the key, because these kids are going to be the backbone of this community,” he said.