I walked into the packed gymnasium for the Clippers free youth basketball clinic, and I wondered how the organizers were going to handle so many kids. I then saw this formidable figure in front of me, and even though I was wearing heels, he dwarfed my 5’11” frame. But more than his stature, I was impressed with the heart and compassion of this successful, former NBA player. I knew I had to speak with Sean Rooks.
Rooks was born in New York where he spent much of his childhood until his family moved to California. He talks about how his passion for the game of basketball began. “My generation, we started off in a park. We were lucky,” He said and continued with, “That’s where I learned to grow the passion for sports. In New York, you play everything and you don’t play it organized. You play everything on the street.”
The first organized sport he played was surprisingly not basketball, but baseball. “I played one year in Junior High then I grew, and that changed my sport. I went from baseball to basketball,” he said.
This 6’10” player went to the University of Arizona and was drafted in 1992 by the Dallas Mavericks. He told me, “It was a dream come true… Playing against all the people you grew up watching and to reach the highest level at the sport you are playing and to be the best at it was definitely a blessing.”
His career in the NBA took him from Dallas to the Minnesota Timberwolves. He eventually ended up back in California playing for the Lakers and then the Clippers. “I got a lot of support from the fans—especially Clippers’ fans—during my career and that was rewarding,” he said.
Rooks retired in 2004. He said, “Overall, I have a lot of fond memories and no regrets. I made a lot of friends in twelve years.” He talks about the different teams he played on and said, “I was always a player who was wanted and that was encouraging as well. I might have been labeled a journeyman, but I had the respect of so many coaches and players.”
This journeyman is enjoying the new direction his path is taking him since retirement. He has pursued broadcasting for the Clippers, coaching the D league (official NBA minor league), and coaching youth. “I love coaching and everything involved in basketball. I’m blessed it’s my passion and what pumps through me all the time,” said Rooks.
This passion was apparent as I watched the way he interacted and coached the youth. I asked him what motivates him to be involved in the community clinics. He responded, “Anything I can give back. I love to teach; I can relate to players; and I have a lot of knowledge to offer… I love working with the youth.” The key point he brought up was, “The older I get and the more involved I get, the more I see a need for more people to be mentors.”
He not only teaches them the “game” he also brings them a message. Rooks said, “The message I want to give the kids is to know there is an adult out there or a person, who is a little bit prominent, that cares about them.”
The way Rooks speaks to the inner-city, under-privileged kids definitely shows them how much he cares. He spoke with so much heart telling them to get an education, and that they can make something of themselves. “I absolutely love helping them, and there is a need. There is too much emphasis put on too many things that mean zero in life,” said Rooks. He expanded that to say, “So many people are focusing on things that aren’t going to get them anywhere… It leads the youth to a dead end path, and they don’t have the tools to better themselves when they find out everything they thought was important really isn’t.”
In addition to placing an emphasis on education, he also preaches a message about bullying. “They just need to know the origin of a bully. They can have a different frame of mind to find ways to counteract by getting help or just getting away from them,” Rooks said.
On being a mentor to the kids, Rooks said, “Anybody who is a positive mentor who can give back and find just 1 or 2 kids that you can set in the right direction—I am for it all day.”
Sean Rooks passion for the game and compassion for the youth make him an excellent role model for today’s youth. Rooks feels that in today’s culture there are “very few people we can look up to and say they are my ‘true celebrity’, a person that holds on to their money, holds on to their clout and prestige, and still tries to make a difference.” After speaking to Sean Rooks and watching his impressive interaction with the youth, I can honestly say he is my “true celebrity”.
© 2012 Leah Bergman
You can follow Leah on twitter @leahbergman
You can find Sean Rooks on Facebook or Follow him on Twitter @SeanRooks45.
In addition to all his work with team clinics, coaches clinics, private training, public speaking engagements; Rooks is currently working with the Phoenix Suns in the position of Player Development.