Hoops for the Homeless

Star Athletes Lead by Example

By Katie Carrera
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, June 10, 2007

Washington Wizards guard Gilbert Arenas was 7 years old when he lived in a car with his father in Los Angeles. They didn't have a place to go. They didn't know what options existed.

In an effort to give homeless families in the Washington area options he didn't have as a child, Arenas and his Zero Two Hero Foundation teamed with Freddie Mac's Hoops for the Homeless three-on-three charity basketball tournament yesterday at Verizon Center.

"This hits home because I know the situation and I know what it takes to get out of that situation," Arenas said. "You need help, people willing to give you a hand, and that's why I'm here -- to help kids in the same situation I was in."

In addition to celebrities who coached the 48 teams, about 10,000 fans and 300 participants attended the fifth annual tournament that raised $900,000 to benefit six local nonprofit organizations that assist homeless families. Each of the six -- Hannah House, So Others Might Eat, Community Ministry of Montgomery County, United Communities Against Poverty, Reston Interfaith and Securing Emergency Resources Through Volunteer Efforts -- had a team in the tournament that included players who were once homeless.

"Everybody wants a piece of the American dream," said basketball legend Magic Johnson, honorary chair of the event. "For them to go from homeless to having a home is a wonderful thing for everybody. It shows kids people that were in a tough situation, but were able to overcome it."

A slew of current and former athletes took the court yesterday, but none heard as much clamor as Arenas. Even though an injury to his left knee kept him from playing, Arenas made one three-pointer after another to the exaltation of the crowd, which included homeless children. His primary concern, in addition to raising funds to end homelessness, was to create a temporary sanctuary for the underprivileged children in attendance.

"That's the exciting part," Arenas said. "For the two, three, four hours that they're here they're enjoying themselves and then they've got to go back to reality, but while they're here we can entertain them."

© 2007 The Washington Post Company