The NBA All-Star festivities are bringing more than basketball stars and high-profile musical acts to Cleveland. From giveaways at the city’s vaccination clinics to philanthropy efforts and donations, All-Star weekend and the lead-up to it encompasses things beyond three-pointers and dunks. One of those charitable endeavors is coming from a Cleveland fan-favorite, NBA champion, and a lover of The Land - wherever he may be.
Retired big-man and 2016 NBA champion Channing Frye has partnered with Mobil 1 and their newly launched Tune Up program and Project Backboard to revitalize the basketball court at Merrick House in Cleveland. Microsoft will join in on the unveiling of the new computer lab, while the nonprofit organization Hoopbus will assist in showcasing and utilizing the new gym.
Frye, who certainly has fond memories of his time in Northeast Ohio and considers it a home away from home, was excited for the opportunity to give back to the community. “Anytime ‘Cleveland’, it’s hard for me not to just jump at (the opportunity), but I felt like this one was right”, Frye said to Fear the Sword about the possibility of refurbishing the basketball court. “I’ve had so many relationships with a court that it has been awesome. A court is anything you want, only limited by imagination. To refurbish that or bring attention to that and hopefully get a lot of kids or adults or whoever wants to have the opportunity to just play a game, that connection is just what people lose.”
“For me, to be able to work with people that I have a great relationship with and partnership with, and then also that have a like-mindedness of wanting to give back to a city that I absolutely love just made so much sense and I was absolutely hyped about it.”
Merrick House has been a critical component of the Cleveland community for more than a century, providing infant child care through Moms First, preschool, youth mentoring and leadership, and adult recreation and education. Since 1919, Merrick House has served and adapted to, its community through different programs and services in various languages. The renovated court, which serves many purposes for the community, was redesigned by artist and Cleveland native Dakarai Akil.
With the NBA bringing their circus to Cleveland, it is hard to ignore the fact that the Cavaliers have been one of the best stories in the league so far. And it was hard for Channing Frye to ignore it too.
“What the Cavs have done has been amazing. I give a lot of credit to J.B. and I give a lot of credit to the acquisition of Jarrett Allen,” Frye said. “If you don’t have to worry about defense, it takes a lot of stress off the team.”
First-time All-Star Darius Garland has gotten a lot of praise from around the league, and his play is a huge reason why the Cavs are where they are - fighting for the top seed in the Eastern Conference. “Darius Garland makes the right play every single time”, Frye said. “When he was on the USA team, you heard from the players ‘Dang Darius is that guy’ and ‘Darius is next in line’. There was nothing but great things from them.”
Head coach J.B. Bickerstaff has planted himself firmly into the Coach of the Year race, and Frye attributes that chiefly to communication. “J.B. is my guy, I have known J.B. since I was a rookie,” Frye said. “The reason he has been successful is communication. Communicating expectations on a daily basis, especially to a young team - talking to 19, 20, 21-year-olds - Jarrett Allen found out he was going to the All-Star game while he was playing Pokemon! They are vets, but they aren’t 30, 35-year-old vets. But the trust and communication helps build the culture, and he (J.B.) lets them rock.”
When asked about the ceiling for this Cavs team in the playoffs, Frye was measured but wants to see them learn on the fly to get better. “Are they humble enough, even if they are first or second (in the Eastern Conference) to continually get better and challenge themselves? I want them to really figure out who they are and have film how they can get better, or how they can solidify who they are defensively, and what is good for them,” Frye said. “Coaching? Great. Chemistry? Elite. Defense? Elite. Offensively? They have some pieces.”
“I think the second round, but be ready to be opportunistic if somebody gets hurt like the Atlanta Hawks last year,” Frye continued.
All-Star weekend brings a lot of fans, a lot of fun, and a lot of flair. But the impacts go above and beyond basketball. Leveraging partnerships, like Frye with Mobil 1 and Project Backboard, to do great work in the community provides that long-lasting impact for people - things that vastly outlive the final buzzer of the All-Star game. “If I am going to be here (in Cleveland for the All-Star Game), how can we be here forever in spirit, on the court? How can we do stuff like that? This, to me, was the perfect situation,” Frye said. Having an impact in that community is what’s going to be awesome.”
While winning a championship cemented his place in Cleveland lore, the work done in helping Merrick House ensures Frye truly will be here forever.