Dallas Mavericks players Dāvis Bertāns and JaVale McGee surprised students at a Dallas ISD middle school Monday afternoon to celebrate the start of the school year. The players first addressed students at a pep rally before visiting eighth graders in the classroom.
The event occurred at John Lewis Social Justice Academy at Oliver Wendell Holmes to mark the Mavs’ yearly donation to Dallas ISD. The franchise provided 20,000 clear backpacks and other school supplies for students across the district.
“This is part of our commitment to youth and education around DISD and we’re so happy to give back,” said Mateo Means, Dallas Mavs community relations coordinator. “We just love our educators, and giving back to our students and teachers is so important to the Mavs.”
McGee, a three-time NBA champion and Olympic gold medalist, says he’s thrilled to be back in the Dallas community. During his first stint with the Mavs, he served and volunteered at various events and he said Monday’s visit was a full-circle moment.
“We’re extremely blessed to be able to donate to you guys,” McGee told sixth-graders at a pep rally. “We’re very excited to be here. We want you guys to stay in school. Education is very important. Stay in your books. I’m really excited to come out, along with my teammate Dāvis. This is amazing.”
The native of Flint, Michigan, has a heart for children in under-resourced communities. In 2013, McGee established his foundation, JUGLIFE, to address water-related crises worldwide. This past June, McGee held his sixth annual Water For Life charity softball game, with numerous superstars from around the league joining the fun. He is passionate about passing on wisdom to the next generation.
Community service is an essential mission for Bertāns, too. During the summer of 2022, his family once again built new basketball courts across Latvia to give back to the game.
In 2021, Bertāns and his brother Dairis renovated and donated a court in honor of Kobe Bryant and his daughter, Gianna. The Bertāns family built and funded two more courts this summer. He’s also been very vocal about the ongoing conflict in Ukraine; the NBA is loaded with European players and many of them have a strong sense of what wartime looks like. It wasn’t so long ago that Yugoslavia split up amid violence and became several different countries.
Bertāns said he is lucky in that his family is safe. But there is nobody in Eastern Europe who isn’t paying close attention to the events in Ukraine. The 6-10 sharpshooter understands now, more than ever, the importance of providing hope for children all over the world. He says the game of basketball bridges communities and unites people.
He was excited to join the Mavs in Oak Cliff Monday afternoon to spend time with the youth.
“It was great to be here,” Bertāns said. “We visited some classrooms, took some pictures and signed some autographs. School is important and it was for me growing up. Even as an athlete, you still have to think even if you’re playing a sport. It’s important to develop your brain. It was great to be here.”
When addressing the students, Bertāns told the students that the gym reminded him of his school back home, where he first started as a child.
“I hope you’re using this gym, too,” he told the kids. “It reminds me of home. Thanks again for having us!”
The Mavs ManiAACs, D-Town Crew, and Mavs Champ and MavsMan also participated in Monday’s pep rally. The franchise donated t-shirts to the students, faculty and staff.
Sharron Evans Jackson is the principal of O.W. Holmes Middle School, the exact same school she attended as a child. She later became the first African American student body president at Bryan Adams High School.
She’s been working as an educator in DISD for over 21 years.
Jackson said the students were amazed when they learned the Dallas Mavericks were arriving today.
“Today is extra special because we’re always in need of school supplies,” Jackson said. “They’re consumable, so we use them and need more of them. We’ve been blessed by the Mavericks to have many school supplies, so we’re excited. And then with the players, how often is it that you get to meet an NBA player? We understood the students’ enthusiasm and let them enjoy themselves today.”
Dallas ISD implemented a clear backpack policy this year for secondary students to protect students and thwart violence.
The Mavericks were honored to support local DISD families with a donation of 20,000 backpacks. Jackson said the bags were “well-made with heavy stitching,” something she said was key so the backpacks hold up all year.
Means, who coordinates community relations efforts with the Mavs, said it was a special day.
“It was great,” he said. “We had MavsMan doing a dunk show at the pep rally and the kids really enjoyed that. The players got to interact with the kids and take photos, sign autographs and hand out school supplies. We are just happy to support our DISD students and teachers and keep education at the forefront of our mission.”