Playa Vista, Calif. — The 25 boys who watched “Creed II” at the Playa Vista Cinemark on Sunday afternoon are going to remember it as basketball movie.
That’s because they were there, enjoying a private screening of the film, free popcorn, drinks and candy with Tobias Harris, the Clippers’ forward who this year has expanded his Tobias’ Troops mentoring program to the L.A. area.
Twelve hours after touching down following the Clippers’ tough two-game trip, Harris was saying hello to each of the boys in the theater lobby, all of whom he soon would surprise with a Christmas present — a new Chromebook. “For school!” he insisted as the wide-eyed teenagers unwrapped what was, for several of them, their first laptop, and for some others, their first computer.
“For my Spanish work, for my video production work, I get to upload my pictures, and my videos, and journal on Google Docs,” said Davon Hunt, 16, who attends Washington Preparatory High School.
The L.A. chapter of Tobias’ Troops is the latest in a collection of programs that otherwise are based in New York and Connecticut (near where Harris grew up on Long Island), as well as Florida and Michigan (where Harris previously played, for the Magic and Pistons).
Locally, the organization is partnering with the Clippers, through their Mentorship Assist Zone, and with Brotherhood Crusade, in an effort to encourage and inspire underprivileged young men and help them plot out career paths.
For Harris, that sort of outreach began in Orlando, where he played from 2012 until he was traded 49 games into the 2015-16 season.
The trade affected not only Harris and those closest to him, but the young people whom he’d developed relationships with. Some of them reached out to him after the trade, fearing he would forget them.
“He told me a story recently that felt like it hurt his heart,” said Bam Hall, Harris’ friend for nearly a decade, who attended Sunday’s screening. “About when he was traded from the Magic and not being able to give the kids who he’d built a relationship with that attention that he used to give them. He thinks about that type of stuff. He was itching to get back, so he could explain to them that this is his job, and it doesn’t mean that relationship is dead, you know?”
Harris said he discussed the situation with his mother, Lisa, now a semi-retired educator whose passion is a driving force behind Tobias’ Troops.
They decided Tobias would continue to support the young people in Orlando, and also in Detroit. He visits with those kids when he’s there for games, and they continue to attend monthly career mentoring workshops like the ones to be held in L.A., Lisa said.
“We created a brotherhood,” Lisa Harris said. “We’re national. We’re in Detroit, we’ve got Florida, New York and Connecticut. What we’re doing is building a relationship with these young people, we’re helping them to explore careers and write them down and then we’re gonna help them plan it out.”
“It’s always a tough time, going from an area where you’ve been able to impact and interact,” said Tobias Harris, who’s also delivered good deeds on the court this season for the 17-12 Clippers, play that recently earned him recognition as the Western Conference Player of the Month.
“One thing I always told my mom is we have to stay in contact and continue to keep that relationship-building, because you don’t want to just leave something good behind,” Tobias added. “But another thing I had to come to grips with: The kids, the mentorship, that will always stick with them. And that’s why everything we do is to make a real impact.”