by Martell Webster
Shooting guard with the Washington Wizards

In my life I’ve been fortunate for so many reasons, not the least of which are the facts that 1) I get to play basketball and 2) I grew up in the Seattle area. I was also raised here when the Sonics were still in town, and can remember that ‘95/’96 season when Shawn, Gary, Detlef and others took us to the Finals against the Bulls. So close. At that time, at ten years old, I still wanted to fly airplanes.

Fast forward a few years and I found myself being drafted straight out of high school and playing in the NBA. In between it took a lot of practice, more tournaments and skills classes than anyone can count, and a lot of time and energy. I’ve said it before — basketball was an escape for me; it got me away from some difficult times and allowed me a path I might not otherwise have had.

In reality, though, it wasn’t just basketball. It was all of the people who stepped in to be my family when I needed them the most. It was my grandmother who raised my brothers, sisters, cousins and I, the uncles who stepped in, and the three families in high school who took me into their homes — into their families — and taught me so much about myself and life. I feel blessed to have the opportunity to play professional basketball, but most of all I feel blessed to have all of these people in my life.

Having a professional basketball team in town was also a personal motivator. Having the Sonics in Seattle when I was young and seeing them play a few feet away from me, whether it was a game or one of their basketball camps, was a constant motivator and made the idea of playing in the NBA a tangible reality. I knew the stories of the retired guys who stuck around the region — guys like Fred Brown and James Donaldson — and was fortunate enough to even attend family night once or twice with different members of the team.

This is why I focus my charitable work around youth mentorship and family. I want every child to have big dreams, learn to work hard, have a strong support system, and have a community and mentors that will help guide and motivate them — just like I did. It is why I have hosted Family Day in local parks for the past two years with free basketball clinics, food, music and other fun activities. We’ve kept our basketball camps free so that any kid, no matter their circumstance, can participate. And we just officially started the Martell Webster Foundation, which will organize many more community events and expand the programs mentioned above.

Every guy I’ve played with over the years — from Seattle Prep to the Blazers to the Timberwolves — has a story to tell and a reason behind their passion for basketball, and I’m sure I’ll hear more stories at the Washington Wizards this year. For me, it’s about family, about a group of people who supported and nurtured me — who taught me to see basketball not just as an escape, but as a vehicle to take control of my future.

I now have three beautiful daughters, and it sure would be amazing to take them to a Sonics game in the future and play in Seattle once again.

— Martell Webster