The NBA has evolved from what it was in 1980 to what it is today.
Kareem AbdulJabbar and I were able to communicate with the next generation of players. You can start from 1980 and look at the All-Pro players, MVPs, or whatever. There was acceptance and cross-over among the various ethnicities which created a good melting pot.
It was with Larry Bird and Converse that I had commercial success. The next wave of Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan is another example. It wasn't a simple thing. We stood on shoulders.
Bill Russell was a close friend over many, many years. Oscar Robertson, Jerry West and even lesser-known guys like Lou Hudson, Walt Bellamy, Pete Maravich. We just wanted to give them credit and help them understand their struggles. They used to take commercial flights all the time. Before that, there were men who took trains and buses. It's so different now.
Over the past eight decades of NBA, there's been growth from the inside. This has given rise to a worldwide image. Without all the pieces, you would not have the whole.
As a Salvation Army child, I was proud to be one. I was aware of the importance of being part in something greater than you. John Havlicek, John Havlicek, and I were Special Olympics endorsers. Because people realized that the same men, the same people who do public service ads, could also be good pitchmen and spokesmen, the commercial endorsements were made.
It was possible to open a portal if you volunteered to do it and gave up your name, face, and likeness. Wall Street could look at it like any other person and say, "This guy pitches the Salvation Army, the Special Olympics, so maybe, he could pitch mine shoe, or my toothpaste."
This was something that I always thought of as a Salvation Army child. It made me who I am today. It was there that I learned to play basketball. It was there that I learned how to travel and be a good representative for the company I am traveling with. So, we would get into the station wagon, and we'd travel all over Long Island, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. It was important to be part of the traveling team. You had to be respectful and represent your family, the Corps and where you came from when you went. This helped you communicate with people and build trust.
When it began, I was eleven years old. It was a constant in my life. It's a topic I still love to talk about, even though I am 71 years old. A few months back, I participated in a program at Salvation Army. It was a fundraising program. He was the same guy who mentored me when I was 11. He's still a great friend. He was kind of out of the Corps and became the mayor in Hempstead.
He recalled the time I didn't have enough money to buy food, and living in a housing development. He said that he wanted to do something else. Let's ask your mom if we can go to the Salvation Army to play basketball indoors, especially in winter. That was a pivotal moment in my life.
I couldn't have imagined what my life would look like, and the NBA can't imagine what it will become today.