Chose Daughter Over NBA

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On a bright, sunny afternoon, Thabiti Bruce Boone, a proud single father, sat and watched his daughter graduate from high school. A quiet smile was on his lips and his whole face was lit with a peaceful glow as Kim walked across the stage to receive her diploma. Afterwards, she threw her arms around his neck. “Daddy, we did it!� she exclaimed.

Hearing those four simple words, Thabiti began to reflect on all that went into them, the magnitude of their meaning for the three lives involved: his mother’s, his own, and his daughter’s. For it was through overcoming tremendous challenges that this former basketball star became the author, activist, minister, and humanitarian he is today. He is a person who is truly making a difference in other people's lives.
For starters, Thabiti Boone was born to a 13-year-old mother and a much older father who was immediately brought up on statutory rape charges. It was only Thabiti’s maternal grandmother, who fought hard in court in order to keep him, that prevented Thabiti from becoming an institutionalized baby. Early on, Thabiti loved to play basketball and showed great talent at it. He was seen as a rising star in his East New York neighborhood. Then one day when he was, as he played basketball in the park, a friend rushed over to tell Thabiti that his mom was on the roof of their housing project, and it looked like she was about to jump. Thabiti ran home just in time to see her plunging to the bottom, right in front of him. She broke nearly every bone in her body, but miraculously she lived.

Needless to say, this harrowing experience was a crisis for both mother and son. Mercifully, however, it left Thabiti’s mother even more determined that her son have a better life than she’d had. She insisted that he excel just as much in the classroom as on the basketball court. As a consequence, not only did Thabiti become a remarkable athlete, he became an excellent student. Thabiti graduated high school with honors and a basketball scholarship from the University of Florida. He was on his way to the next phase of his promising basketball career.
But during the summer following his freshman year at college, Thabiti faced yet another challenge. He learned he was about to become a teenage father. Would he be doomed in the same cyle his mother had feared? The young couple considered getting married and raising their baby together, but it soon became apparent that what they each wanted out of life just didn’t mesh. From the get go, Thabiti was devoted to his daughter Kim. He also became convinced that the mother’s lifestyle would not provide the best climate for her upbringing. Against the impassioned pleas of family, as well as friends and coaches who begged him not to throw away his future, he decided to step up as a father. “I felt my daughter deserved the best chance at life I could give her," he recalls. "I also wanted to be a better example of fatherhood than what I’d had and seen. And I wanted to prove you can make mistakes in your life, but instead of being irresponsible and walking away, you can choose a different path. I wanted to make a change in myself and in how I would be perceived in and defined by this society as a Black man.�

Thabiti pledged to raise Kim himself – while attending college and continuing to play basketball. Though she fought him at first, the mother of the child came to agree that it would be best for Kim to be with him. So in 1984 when such a thing was unheard of, Thabiti went looking for a college for his infant daughter and himself. “If you want me as a basketball player, you've got to take the total package,� he would tell them. They would have to give him an apartment and full scholarships to cover tuition and everything else Kim and he would need. And this would all have to be done with the understanding that his daughter came first. Rochester Institute of Technology came through with the goods.

Thabiti Boone will never forget that Greyhound Bus ride – which seemed like the longest ride he ever took in his life – that brought his young daughter and him to Rochester, New York. “There were all the feelings of extreme love that had me do it in the first place,� he recalls. “But they were matched by feelings of extreme uncertainty, the stress of not knowing what was going to happen at a place where anything could go wrong.�

And when he got off the bus, loaded down with baby stroller, diapers, bottles and a new baby, Thabiti stared at Kim and said to himself, “This is it now: me and my daughter. I am going to step up and meet this challenge like a true ball player!� The first thing Thabiti did was map out his plan for classes, study, basketball practice and games. He got a great deal of assistance from the female students, including a girlfriend he dated while in college, who were eager to help take care of Kim while he met his other responsibilities.

As Kim got a little older, Thabiti began taking her everywhere with him. “She and I had a ball,� he said. “We would study together, go to basketball practice and to classes together. She was the darling of the campus; everybody knew her.� During his senior year, Thabiti was also elected President of the Black Student Union, which, up to that point, had been marginalized as a club of second-class students. In a single year he transformed it into a stand-up organization that fought for a budget like all the other student organizations on campus, a Martin Luther King annual celebration, and their right to have their own Black Studies Department.

Through this work, Thabiti got a taste of what it feels like to have a positive impact on people’s lives and to gain people’s respect as a social activist. It was different from the thrill of success on the basketball court, but it, too, brought him a tremendous feeling of fulfillment and self-worth. During that year, Thabiti also had to make one of the biggest decisions of his life: Did he want to pursue his NBA dream or continue raising Kim? He knew very well that in professional sports, you’re constantly on the road, and about the best you can do as a single parent is to hire someone to raise your child in your absence. After everything they’d been through together, was this what he wanted for his little princess?

Thabiti Boone decided to put fatherhood first. A major reason was, Kim’s mom had no role in her life. “I gave up my NBA dream because I felt that was the right thing to do,� he said.

And how right he was. Through all the years that followed and all the challenges Thabiti faced, it was Kim who kept him strong. Whenever he got a little down or felt like giving up, especially when he fully realized that basketball was completely over for him, he’d look at his daughter and feel re-energized. “Children have this innocent strength about them that if parents pay enough attention, they’ll see that they’re actually parenting us,� Thabiti commented. “Kim taught me so much about myself and gave me a sense of healing my own background.�
It was his commitment to his daughter that enabled Thabiti to rekindle his love for his mother. And through that love for these two women, over the years Thabiti has continued to make a difference in the lives of others, speaking out and responding to issues and concerns that affect our society, particularly the interests of the Black community, men, youth and the voiceless who are in need.

Some of Thabiti’s humanitarian activities include adopting schools, supporting needy families, and providing a year-round sports, academic, hip hop and mentoring program that reaches over 10,000 students, particularly Black male youth. He also sponsors a summer camp for over 500 kids, hosts holiday parties at which he gives out clothes and gifts, and, as an author, donates thousands of dollars worth of books to promote literacy. Thabiti spends countless hours making public appearances throughout the country to offer inspiration, and he conducts an annual Harlem Black Cultural Month trip and luncheon, Behind the Scene NY Knick trips, a Hip Hop Day, as well as early enrichment and higher education programs.

One of the things Thabiti finds most satisfying is coaching each summer for the New York Knicks Summer Basketball Camp for youth. He’s grateful to do this work because it keeps his love for basketball a part of his life. Karin Buchholz, Vice President of Community Relations and Fan Development for the Knicks, said, “Thabiti is a very good coach, and he has a great way with children. We are thrilled that he's working with our kids here.� She stated, too, that she knows he's done a lot of great things in the community, and that’s why the Knicks organization supports him, giving him tickets so he can bring kids in his programs to Knicks games.

And what happened to Thabiti Boone’s mother and daughter? When he graduated from college, he presented his diploma as a gift to his mother. He also assisted her in buying the home in Charlotte, North Carolina where she lives very happily today. Kim is now pursuing her own dreams at Medgar Evers College.

Thabiti Boone can be reached at

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