Interviews & Profiles

Ambassador Big

New York Knicks point guard Raymond Felton may be best known for his day job, but off the basketball court his role as ambassador for the Big Brothers Big Sisters of New York City is one he takes seriously. Throughout January he will be one of many athletes and celebrities—as well as elected officials including several borough presidents and City Council members—who will participate in recruiting events, workshops and fundraisers hosted by the organization.

Starting this season Felton and the Knicks have sputtered out of the gate, with key players facing numerous injuries after a largely successful 2012–13 regular season that ended with a second-round loss in the playoffs. Felton himself, after trying to play through a strained hamstring and pinched nerve in his hip, decided to take a few games off to concentrate on his physical restoration.

City & State’s Nick Powell, a die-hard Knicks fan, spoke with the athlete last month at Manhattan’s Basketball City, where Felton was hosting a holiday event for Big Brothers Big Sisters. Felton touched on the organization’s mentor awareness campaign, his role as “Ambassador Big,” and of course, the state of the Knicks.

City & State: What inspired you to get involved with this organization?
Raymond Felton: I did it my first five years in the league down in Charlotte, was very into it and did a lot with it. I loved it. I had my own “Little,” and I just really enjoyed it. I love working with kids, I love being that positive role model in a kid’s life. I have my own son now, so I try to fulfill that role. That’s what a lot of kids are missing in this world. If I can help in any kind of way with one, two, three, 20, a hundred kids, I try to do my part.

C&S: Is that something you wish you had as a young kid? A positive older role model?
RF: I had it. My dad was very into my life. He taught me a lot, he was there for me; he was kind of my dad, my brother, my best friend all in one. Just to have that—and I do understand there’s a lot of kids who don’t, so if I can be that person for a kid or for a group of kids, then so be it, that’s what I want.

C&S: January is National Mentor Awareness Month. Can you tell me a little bit about the campaign you’re involved with?
RF: The biggest thing is me just trying to get more Bigs, working with Big Brothers Big Sisters trying to get more mentors, more guys, more athletes, more whoever. These kids need someone they can call, they can talk to, they can spend some time with. A lot of kids don’t have that at home, a lot of kids just don’t have that parent in their life. Whether it’s females, whether it’s males, whether it’s blacks, whites, whoever, it doesn’t matter. I’m not trying to call nobody out. I’m just trying to get some guys to come out … and be a part of Big Brothers Big Sisters. It’s a great thing; it’s a wonderful organization.

C&S: Have you reached out to any of your own teammates?
RF: I’ve mentioned it. Everybody has their own thing, they have their own foundation where they do a lot of stuff in the community, so I can’t knock that. It’s just me trying to bother them a little bit. Right now it’s not the time because we’re kind of going through a little something on the court, but I’ve been messing with them here and there, so I’ll make something happen, trust me.

C&S: I’m a lifelong Knicks fan, so I obviously feel the pain of the team’s tough start. You are dealing with some injuries right now. How are you feeling?
RF: I feel great. One thing I just want to do is make sure when I come back this time is that I’m healthy and that I don’t miss any more games, so that I’m just sitting out even longer than I did the first time. I came back a little too early and it kind of caught up to me. I want to … just make sure I’m one hundred percent, and that when I come out the injury don’t come back. Anything can happen, but I just don’t want this hamstring to come back.

C&S: What do you think the team needs to do to get back to playing basketball the way you did last season?
RF: One is to get healthy. We just got Tyson [Chandler] back last night. I’ll be back after one more game. Kenyon [Martin] is out, Pablo [Prigioni] is out. I think we have a good enough team, and just getting guys healthy, getting everybody back at one time, and just stay on course, stay positive. We understand that we’re in a slump and we didn’t get off to the [start] that we wanted. But it’s a long season—it’s about how you finish, not necessarily how you start.

C&S: I’m part of the New York media, so I know how we can be: overbearing. It’s the fishbowl. But is it difficult, with the tough start and the heightened expectations, to deal with the extra scrutiny?
RF: When you come to New York, it’s one of the things you have to understand, that’s gonna happen. If you do good, they love you; if you do bad, they hate you. That’s one thing that I do understand. I have a strong mental—a strong mind, don’t bother me what people say, what people put rumors out there. It is what it is. All the true fans, they’re with us … they understand it’s a long season; they’re riding with us. They rode with us last year when we were great, so ride with us when times are tough. We fight through this thing, we try to get better each and every day, and we’re gonna figure this thing out.

C&S: Have you been following your old college team at the University of North Carolina this year?
RF: For sure. Those guys are doing great, considering they’re missing one key guy, being out and being suspended. [P.J. Hairston, UNC’s leading scorer, was suspended for violating NCAA rules.] But those young guys are doing a great job, Coach [Roy] Williams is doing a great job with those guys down there, really leading them and motivating those guys to go out and play. I’m proud of them.

video of this interview was published on December 26th.

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