Monday, July 9, 2012 | 2 a.m.
Eyes get wide when he enters the room. Conversations and chatter quiet to a whisper and attention is paid in full. That’s the affect a pro basketball player has on kids, especially when they’re from the same city.
“Sometimes they don’t think you’re real, so it’s fun just to be around them,” said C.J. Watson, a Chicago Bulls point guard and Bishop Gorman grad.
Watson is the president of the Quiet Storm Foundation, a nonprofit organization he started in 2009 with the goal of giving back to kids in the communities around Las Vegas and Chicago.
On Sunday, July 15, the foundation is having a charity poker tournament, and a few days later, from July 19-21, it is hosting the 10th annual Hoops for Hope free basketball camp and parent workshop.
The poker tournament is the newest activity the foundation’s committee, which includes Watson’s parents, Charles and Cathy, came up with to help raise money for its other outreach programs, including poetry slams and a Black History Month essay contest. The tournament is at Green Valley Ranch Resort at 5 p.m. and costs $100, with the winner getting $1,000 and payouts down to ninth place.
On the other hand, the basketball camp seems like it’s been around forever in the Watson family.
Cathy started Hoops for Hope 10 years ago, back when the NBA was still just a dream for Watson. When he created the foundation, it only made sense to bring this family legacy into the fold.
“I always wanted to use my position to give back now that I’m in the NBA,” Watson said.
Beyond the skills that Watson and other area coaches and players will teach, the camp educates youth about healthy habits that can last beyond their time at the Doolittle Community Center and about creating a sense of teamwork.
More importantly, Watson also strives to lift the kids’ spirits by reminding them that he started in a similar place as them.
“There’s not a lot of chances here, not a lot of opportunities, so I wanted to give them hope that you can make it,” Watson said.
Watson is trying to show that there are different ways to “make it”, too. This offseason, arguably the most important of his career because of last season’s injury to Bulls All-Star point guard Derrick Rose, Watson is not only preparing for potentially a bigger role, but he also completed his psychology degree at the University of Tennessee.
He finished his volunteer career with a few credits still left before embarking on a professional basketball career that took him from Italy to Greece to the NBA D-League and eventually up to the Golden State Warriors in 2008. He became a Bull in 2010, and during all of that time he knew that he wanted to finish his degree.
“It’s something I worked hard for,” Watson said. “I didn’t want it lingering until I was 30 or 40 years old.”
That will be a new topic Watson gets to discuss with the kids this year, one he’s happy to share. And coming from him, words about the importance of education are more likely to land home than if the kids heard it from a random speaker. Just look at those eyes. Watson knows he has their attention.