Aaron McKie concluded a successful professional basketball career playing in the NBA last season, one in which he reaped the riches and glory associated with professional sports.
But through his 13-year career, McKie never forgot his childhood, which he spent growing up poor in Philadelphia. That childhood wasn’t unlike those many children experience today.
This Christmas, McKie is trying to make a difference among Philadelphia’s underserved children.
“I kind of have an idea how kids feel when they wake up and don’t have toys,” McKie said.
Through the AM8 Foundation, a non-profit organization McKie started in 2006, McKie will be collecting new, unwrapped toys at Temple’s men’s basketball game Sunday at the Liacouras Center. The toys will be donated to the Philadelphia Marines Toys for Tots program and distributed to children throughout Philadelphia.
“It means so much to them,” McKie said. “I like to tell them, ‘I’m not any different than you.’ I see a lot of myself in them. . . . When you’re growing up rough, you have it tough. And, when you have some success, you should give back.”
Suggested toys for donation include Legos, Barbies, Fisher-Price brand, Disney brand, sports equipment, arts and craft supplies and Tonka trucks.
The toy drive is the second part of AM8’s Operation Holiday Joy program. At Thanksgiving, AM8 provided 100 turkeys to local families.
This year marks the program’s second year, but the first in which McKie will be present. Last year, his obligations as a player for the Los Angeles Lakers prevented him from being in Philadelphia. But whether he’s present matters little, McKie said, as long as a difference is made.
“I’m not an attention seeker,” he said. “I like to do things from the heart.”
McKie said he’s simply trying to assist those in need because he can, a priority preached by two of his mentors, former Temple coach John Chaney and former Philadelphia 76ers coach Larry Brown.
The foundation collected nearly 700 toys last year.
“There’s nothing better than seeing the impact of it when you put that gift in the child’s hands or shake their hand or give them a hug,” McKie said. “That’s the gratification I get out of it. It means the world to me.”
The foundation’s focus is on the Operation Holiday Joy program now, but offers several other programs throughout the year.
AM8 offers basketball camps to children ages 5-18 at the Belfield Recreation Center, as well as an afterschool learning program that provides homework assistance, life skills workshops and recreation. To assist these programs, Pennsylvania awarded AM8 a $15,000 grant last month.
“The more important thing is to give [the children] things to do, to keep them from having idle time,” McKie said. “When they have idle time, they can get into trouble.”
McKie said basketball has given him a way to assist people and that he’d be a fool to believe he could be as affective elsewhere in helping people.
Thus, he’s currently serving his first season as an assistant coach with the Sixers, for whom he played eight seasons.
“Basketball is in my blood,” McKie said. “It’s the natural transition.”
John Kopp can be reached at email@example.com.