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Cuban's Youth Center: Rebuilding Hope In Oak Cliff Print E-mail
by Mike Fisher    Sat, Jan 17, 2009, 08:30 am

   Your first introduction to what will in three months be the “Mark Cuban Heroes Basketball Center’’ in Oak Cliff is the graffiti on the walls, proclaiming this to be the home of “BLOOD, TX.’’

   We are inside what once was an abandoned YWCA building that stands at the corner of Bonnie View Road and Sutherland Avenue. In recent years it’s become an unofficial home to some of the more disturbing aspects of our society.

   But not today. The building is being gutted and cleaned and rebuilt and soon, this will become an NBA-facility-level 15,000-square-foot facility sitting on 200 acres of land … all about to undergo a neighborhood-wide makeover for the purpose of giving hope to youngsters.

  “This will help give kids a chance to be stars,’’ Cuban says, “instead of victims.’’


   The basketball center – and the development around it that might someday include affordable housing, retail properties and even a new Dallas Mavericks headquarters and training facility – is the brainchild of  Cuban business partner Charlie McKinney, a charity-minded fellow who founded the Heroes Foundation eight years ago (and then merged some of his efforts with the charitable work of Mavs GM Donnie Nelson). McKinney runs run a baseball program headquartered at the lovely little Whataburger Field near American Airlines Center; 25,000 kids have gone through that program.

   McKinney now oversees a youth basketball program that he says is so successful that, “Last year in our 17-and-under division, we had seven players get Division I scholarships."

   The basketball program needed a home base, however. McKinney has spent eight years trying to persuade Cuban to allow his name to be used in various ways; Charlie always figured there was a promotional value for Heroes to do so.

  Cuban figured something else.

   “Some people are going to see cynical motives in anything I do,’’ says Cuban, who therefore tries to keep his charitable works quiet and attempted to persuade his father to accept namesake honors.

    Replied Norty Cuban, comically feisty as always: "Hell, no! I’m not dead yet.’’

    So it is the Mark Cuban Heroes Basketball Center and it is going to be glorious. The basketball court will be NBA-quality. So will the locker room and the weight room. Oh, and the computer labs and the classrooms and the instruction courses that will help kids through SAT and ACT tests and essay-writing and career guidance. Oh, and protection from the vultures who so often gobble up teenage basketball progenies and then spit them out.

    “It upsets me that I’m in the business of professional basketball and that kids who might want to come work for my will get victimized along the way because of their desire,’’ Cuban says. “Unscrupulous people trying to use them as a meal ticket, that’s upsetting. (Heroes) is an alternative. You’ve got somebody you can turn to and trust that’s going to have your best interest at heart, as opposed to just wondering whether you can dribble a basketball, hit a baseball or throw a football.’’

    There are benefits great and small to all of this. In attendance with Mark at this unveiling is one of his young daughters. All the excitement and the speeches and the hardhats may be beyond her grasp at this moment, but. …

   "As our kids get older,’’ Cuban says, “we want them to recognize that as fortunate as we are, not everybody is so fortunate. And this is just one way to connect to it. … As I’ve said many times before, I’m the luckiest guy in the world. This is one way for me and my family to show our appreciation for that."

    On a more grand scale, this facility figures to be a showcase come February 2010, when the NBA All-Star Game comes to North Texas. The game itself will be played at Jerry Jones’ new Taj Mahal in Arlington. Fort Worth is part of the party, too. The American Airlines Center will house a variety of events, and in Dallas, downtown, Uptown, Victory Plaza, they’ll all be buzzing.

    And so will this abandoned YWCA building on the corner of Bonnie View Road and Sutherland Avenue in Oak Cliff. Can you imagine? All the superstars coming a few miles south of the AAC, into a neighborhood not unlike the ones many of them grew up in, and then here, down in a valley long forgotten by wealthy benefactors who care, will be this shining example of somebody doing something right?

    "This will be built and all ready to go for All-Star Weekend,’’ Cuban said. “We can have all sorts of events down here. Practices (with pro players). Clinics featuring the pros and the kids. We can really show people what we’re trying to accomplish and we can really highlight the kids.’’

    There is something else going on here today, though, something between the small (Mark’s preschool-age daughter) and the grand (the vision of NBA All-Stars hanging out in Oak Cliff.) Congregating inside of the walls spray-painted with the words “BLOOD, TX’’ are precisely the sort of people who in this “Can-Do’’ city of Dallas have for so long found ways to avoid “doing’’ together. White vs. Black. North vs. South. Haves Vs. Have-Nots. My Interests vs. Your Interests.

    It’s why, I think, it sometimes seems the Dallas City Council spends as much time name-calling as it does governing, why DISD can’t keep its credit-card bills straight, why DART isn’t what it should be, why the Dallas Cowboys never set foot in Dallas, why we can’t even settle on re-naming a street.

    But consider the successful courting of the 2010 NBA All-Star Game. That was a group effort, a team effort. Mayors of at least three cities. Owners of at least two pro sports teams. Money people. Basketball people. Political people. Can-do people.

     I mention the unfortunate history and what I view as a positive trend to Mayor Pro-Tem Dwaine Caraway, and he does not disagree.

    “But there are new people at the table, new leaders,’’ Carraway says to me as we walk up a ramp that will soon be revamped as part of the face of the new building. "I think the mayor (Tom Leppert) and this City Council have a vision. And I think that can spill over to DISD and DART and elsewhere. Efforts like this are a sign of unification now, and they can be unifying for the future.’’  

    I offer the same observation and theory to Cuban.

    “I try to stay out of politics,’’ Mark says, smiling. “But I do think more and more, those involved are recognizing the opportunities we have to work together, and the benefits that come when we do.’’

     The “Mark Cuban Heroes Basketball Center’’ is under construction. For the purpose of a photo op, there is blue paint and the assembled dignitaries each grab a brush and start covering up the “BLOOD, TX.’’

    The building is otherwise gutted and empty, yet it is full.

     Of hope.

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