It was a slam dunk.
Nets rookie and former Abraham Lincoln High School standout Isaiah Whitehead held his second annual Giveback Day in Coney Island on Aug. 14, drawing basketball fans from across the city for a party that featured clowns, jungle gyms, a cookout, and — of course — basketball. Fans, former teammates, and borough basketball stars came out to show support for a player who has inspired so many, one baller said.
“I mean it’s a blessing, I grew up watching [Whitehead] my whole life, and get better and better everyday,” Lincoln senior David Flores said. “He helped me out with a lot, and I just wanted to show up for his day.”
Whitehead was the center of attention — the hometown hero giving back to his community — but the hoops star made sure the spotlight was also focused on the young players who came out to showcase their skills.
The first event of the day highlighted some of the brightest stars in New York junior high-school basketball. Among them was New Jersey native Posh Alexander, an eighth-grader who is already receiving a high level of interest from St. John’s University, without even playing a minute of high-school basketball.
It was the high-school showcase, however, that truly stole the show. The jam-packed crowd reacted to every pass, cheered for every jumpshot, and nearly stormed the court when players slammed down a dunk. In fact, the audience was so large that barricades were put up to keep fans off the court.
The matchup featured a handful of Division-I prospects including Flores, Queens native Hamidou Diallo, and St. Raymond’s guard Isaiah Washington.
The game itself was streetball at its finest. The offenses from both Team New York City and Team Coney Island — the latter decked out in black and white colors for Whitehead’s new Nets squad — both ran at an incredibly high tempo. The game was littered with high-rising dunks, alley-oops, and long-distance three pointers.
Whitehead took all of it in from his spot on the sideline — flanked by fellow Nets rookie Caris LeVert — cheering on the high-school stars and hyping up the crowd throughout the game.
The event didn’t just a mean a lot to Whitehead’s hometown community — the Nets also took notice. After drafting Whitehead earlier this year, the team’s front office made it clear that his Brooklyn connection was a big-time factor in his selection, and events like these only add to that reputation.
“[We’re looking for] the Isaiah Whiteheads — they fill the characteristics we’re looking for,” Nets coach Kenny Atkinson said during Whitehead’s formal introduction with the team in June. “Hard working, high character, basketball IQ is important to us and competitors. That’s kind of like our litmus test.”
Whitehead’s road to pro-level-stardom hasn’t been easy — his rookie season will undoubtedly include its share of challenges, but the guard who used to light up the scoreboard at Lincoln won’t ever forget where he came from.
He’s a Brooklyn kid at heart and was quick to update fans — in Coney Island and around the city — on Facebook that he’s already excited to plan next year’s showcase. After all, this is home.