Darvin Ham hopes basketball, off-court lessons reach Saginaw 'campers'
SAGINAW, MI — Darvin Ham's dunking days are history.
The former Saginaw High, Texas Tech and NBA player, who was featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated after breaking a backboard on a dunk in the 1996 NCAA Tournament, hobbled into his hometown over the weekend for the Urban Youth Development basketball camp.
Ham, 41, tore his Achilles tendon in his left heel, forcing the former NBA dunk star to use crutches while he watched more than 100 boys and girls compete on the basketball court and learn life skills in a classroom at Saginaw Township's Center Courts.
"It happened a couple weeks ago at a pickup game at a YMCA in Atlanta," said Ham, who acquired the nicknames Dunkin Darvin and Ham Slamwich during his NBA career.
"My doctor said not to travel, but I had to come here for this. I had to fly, drive, whatever to get here. We've done these camps in a lot of places, but I had to be here for this one. I was still dunking before this happened, but I think those days are over now."
The Urban Youth Development camp features basketball, but it also includes drills in teamwork, decision-making, conflict resolution and self-defense.
"When I was growing up in Saginaw, there was crack everywhere and it took away so many young people, so many young leaders ... there was a void," Ham said. "We need to bring leaders back, not just basketball players or athletes.
"We always talk about giving back, and people always measure that in money. But giving back is also about giving your time." - Darvin Ham
"There are so many successful leaders in the African-American community that need to be heard ... doctors, bankers, law enforcement, financial people. Kids need to see them. They need to see that the ways to success aren't just athletics.
"For this camp, the basketball is the draw, but it's not the purpose. It's to reach kids. It's not just about athletics. It's not just about school. It's about the time when they're not in athletics or school. It's the down time that so many kids fill with the wrong things, things that get them in trouble. They don't realize it, but that road leads to jail or the cemetery."
Ham spent eight years in the NBA, playing for teams that reached the playoffs four times and the NBA Championship game twice. He earned a NBA Championship ring as a member of the Detroit Pistons in 2003.
He is currently an assistant coach for the Atlanta Hawks and coached the Hawks' Summer League team.
"I have a lot to learn, but someday I'd like to be a head coach in the NBA," Ham said. "That's the path I'm on, so I ask a lot of questions and watch how coaches do things. I'm learning, but I'm not there yet.
"I've had so many people help me get to this point in my life. I'm trying to do the same, trying to help these kids become successful, helping them so they don't make the same mistakes I made."
Ham didn't play high school basketball until his senior year at Saginaw High. Even then, he didn't play much. Ham landed a spot on the Otero Junior College basketball team in La Junta, Colorado. He played one season at Otero, but was dismissed from the team after getting into a fight with some baseball players after they used a racial slur.
"We teach conflict resolution here, but sometimes the conflict can't be resolved," Ham said. "I don't know if I could have outrun the baseball players. They had a bat. But we also teach self-defense here, emphasizing that it's for defense, not for attack."
Ham also had to worry about his son, Darvin Ham Jr., who was born while Ham was in high school. Darvin Ham Jr. played basketball at Bridgeport High School and Northwood University. He also participated in a National Basektball Developmental League tryout camp and expects to join an NBDL team in November.
"I couldn't give up because I had to do whatever I could for my family," Ham said. "It wasn't just about me. It wasn't just about getting by. It was about making a better life for my family."
Ham eventually landed at Texas Tech. Tech was the last team standing.
"I went to a junior college camp in Vincennes (Indiana) the day of the funeral for my grandfather (Wilson Jones)," Ham said. "He died of colon cancer. Earlier that year, my dad (Howard Ham) died in a car accident. I didn't want to go to the camp, but my grandmother (Evalena Jones) made me. She said my grandfather loved me and knew that I loved him, but his life was over and mine was just beginning. Go.
"So I did, and there were 150 college coaches there."
While many showed interest and said they would offer Ham a spot, he chose Texas Tech.
"After what happened at Otero, they were the only ones who stood by me," Ham said. "The backed me. They sent the letter of intent, and I signed it. A couple of years later, detectives corroborated my story and the NCAA gave me a year of eligibility back."
Ham went on to lead Texas Tech to the Sweet 16. He wasn't drafted, but forged an eight-year career in the NBA before playing in the Philippines and the NBDL. He began his coaching career in the NBDL.
After the players participate in the camp Saturday and Sunday, they are required to visit the Hoyt Nursing and Rehab Center, 1202 Weiss, in Saginaw.
"We always talk about giving back, and people always measure that in money," Ham said. "But giving back is also about giving your time. To me that's more important. You can throw money at something and say you're giving, but that's just money.
"We want to get these kids thinking about giving their time, doing work for others. And hopefully, they listen to the people at Hoyt. These are people who have already created their path in life, people who have gone through the rocky parts and made mistakes.
"These are people who can help these kids with their message, if the kids listen for it. My path to where I am has taken some many turns and detours over so many rocky places that the only way I've gotten to where I am is through the help and advice of other people.
"We can give that advice. We can bring that message. But ultimately it's up to each person to listen. I hope they do."