Minium: Jay Harris name is on the pitch, but ODU ex-man says Al Harris spirit lives there
Through Harry mini
The inspiration behind the shiny new outdoor basketball court at the Boys & Girls Club near downtown Newport News came from Old Dominion University graduates Nancy Lieberman and Jay Harris.
They met almost two decades ago, when she was one of the best female basketball players of all time and an aspiring star in ESPN’s SportsCenter.
“We hit it off right away,” Lieberman said. “We’ve been inseparable ever since. We’ve done so many good things together.”
Their latest joint venture: Last month, the inauguration of a “Dream Court”, sponsored by Nancy Lieberman Charities, with Harris’ name near the middle of the court.
When speaking at the opening, the two mentioned heroes in their lives who inspired them to be philanthropic.
As a young Jewish child growing up in a busy neighborhood in Queens, New York, Lieberman was raised by a single mother and was often hungry. “I was broken,” she said.
ODU trainer DeLisha Milton-Jones with Nancy Lieberman
But her friends watched over her as she pursued her dream of becoming a basketball star. Lieberman has succeeded beyond his wildest dreams, winning two national championships and a Wade Trophy at ODU and playing professionally as both a coach and a player.
One of her strongest role models was boxer Muhammad Ali, whom she met in New York in 1979 when she was a senior at ODU. “Muhammad Ali taught me about racism, about love, how to be a giver and not a taker, and he taught me about philanthropy,” she told about 200 leaders and young people.
Obviously, Lieberman is a donor. The Hampton Avenue lot is one of nearly 100 built by his charity, which has partnered with Sport Court to set up lots in low-income neighborhoods across the country. The Newport News Police Department was also a key partner.
Lieberman wanted the court to be named after Harris, an ESPN presenter, to inspire the kids. But he wants the kids to remember another Harris, his father, Al, a longshoreman who has spent much of his life in the Park Place neighborhood of Norfolk.
“He’s not here anymore,” said Harris, “but he’s had an impact on so many people in his 82 years on earth.”
Al Harris later became a human resources manager for the Port of Virginia and often helped people struggling with what to do with their lives find employment on the Norfolk waterfront.
He was known throughout Park Place as a Good Samaritan. Anyone who needed a helping hand, a meal, or a few dollars to get through the weekend could come to Al Harris and get help.
Among those he helped was Delano Ward, Jay Harris’ brother from his mother’s second marriage.
“He treated Delano like he was his son,” Jay said of his father.
Delano is now a longshoreman in Norfolk, thanks to timely advice and help from Al Harris.
Harris remembered being out until the early hours of the morning when he was a young man. Barely after falling asleep, he heard his father scream, “Get up and shine, son. Remember that garden work we had to do today? Let’s get up and do it.”
Harris got out of bed groggy and worked most of the day in the yard.
“I’m telling this story because it taught me what to do and what not to do,” said Harris, who is also a member of the Old Dominion Visitors’ Council. “I realized that staying awake all night isn’t all the claims are made. My dad taught me that doing the right thing doesn’t just help others, it helps you too.
“This is what we all hope this tribunal will do. We hope it will give young people the opportunity to come together in a place where you can learn from each other, grow, be empathetic, to understand that we have more in common than we realize. “
Lieberman told the fifty or so kids sitting on the pitch, “I’m going to ask you to follow the words Jay Harris gave you: love, kindness, empathy, care.
Jay Harris, ODU Graduate and ESPN SportsCenter Host
“It doesn’t matter if someone isn’t like you. Just reaching out or hugging someone can change a life. Let’s not judge people. Let’s not be prejudiced.
“When I was on the playgrounds in New York, my black friends protected me. My black friends loved me, and I loved them.
“Live this life every day that everyone is welcome here. Protect this tribunal. Don’t let nothing bad happen here. And make it a welcoming place for everyone.”
Minium worked for 39 years at the Virginian-Pilot, where he was nominated twice for the Pulitzer Prize and won 28 state and national writing awards. He writes reports, reports and commentary for odusports.com and odu.edu Follow him on Twitter @Harry_MiniumODU, Instagram @ hbminium1 or email [email protected]