After just one year in the National Basketball Association, Indiana Pacers center Rakeem Christmas is coming back to his native Virgin Islands for an All Star Game to raise funds for basketball court repair throughout the territory.
“It’s been a long process, leaving here and playing basketball,” Christmas said Monday during an interview from St. Croix.
Like many in the territory, Christmas grew up playing baseball, but turned to basketball after heading to Pennsylvania to finish high school. He made his mark at Syracuse University, where he played for four years before being drafted by the Minnesota Timberwolves.
“I ended up loving the game as the years went by,” said Christmas, who was then traded to the Cavaliers and then to the Pacers. “And after being drafted, I was in the D-League (the NBA’s developmental league) coming back up and down, and that was a good experience, learning even more about the game. I got the chance to be in the playoffs for a little bit and got to watch the vets, and it was a good experience learning from them.”
Christmas said Monday he is eager to pass along the value of that experience to students within the territory through a series of camps scheduled this week on St. Croix and St. Thomas. Christmas’s camp is expecting at least 100 young athletes to come out territory-wide to learn more about the fundamentals of the game while also getting in some competition time.
Both camps will be held in partnership with the local Boys and Girls Club chapters, and will kick off on St. Croix from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday at St. Croix Central High School before moving to Bertha C. Boschulte Middle School on St. Thomas Thursday morning.
“I want to give back to the community,” Christmas said Monday when asked what inspired the camp. “Right now, you hear about a lot of violence going on across the territory, so my goal is to try and bring everyone together, to have a good time, and to have fun with the kids and try to get them playing better basketball.
Players 19 and younger will get the chance on Saturday to play in a basketball charity game which pits St. Thomas’ athletes against St. Croix’s.
Joining in the fun will be Christmas’ NBA colleagues Chris McCullough from the New Jersey Nets and Jerami Grant from the Philadelphia 76ers.
Christmas said the game, which starts at Central High School at 3 p.m., will feature a half time show by Rock City, along with a dunk contest and a three point shootout.
“We want to bring people out to show that St. Croix is not just about violence,” Christmas said. “All that’s been going on, it’s just unnecessary and we have to all work together to keep the kids away from it. Me coming here and holding the camps is part of that process. I was a nobody before, but they can see that if you just keep yourself straight, they can accomplish great things.”
Christmas said he hopes to make the camps and game an annual event that will raise money for repairs to basketball courts throughout the territory.
Saturday’s game will put the first set of funds towards one court in Frederiksted, and Christmas said he hopes to build every year from there.
More information is online at www.ChristmasBasketball.com.