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If you have seven kids, you either really, really love being a father, or you’re trying to acquire your own basketball team the old-fashioned way. If you’re Allan Houston, it’s both. Houston’s love and basketball story starts with his parents. His father, Wade, was part of the first class of African American basketball signees at the University of Louisville in 1962. His mother, Alice, grew up in Louisville two houses down from the Clays — yes, the Cassius Clays — and Allan spent his earliest years in that house on Grand Avenue, where the families were tight. In 1989, the University of Tennessee made Wade the first African American head coach in the Southeast Conference, and he brought along Allan, a freshly minted state champion and Kentucky’s scholastic Mr. Basketball.
Houston graduated as UT’s all-time leading scorer, became a 2-time NBA All-Star and Olympic gold medalist, and is currently the New York Knicks’ Assistant GM. In his spare time — if you believe a dude with that rap sheet and seven kids has any — Houston leads his namesake Legacy Foundation, which funds fatherhood and mentorship initiatives including his “Father Knows Best” program. Presumably, after all that, Houston and his wife, Tamara, go home and run full-court 4-on-4 games in the driveway. With a sub.
Q: What was the most important lesson you learned from Muhammad Ali?
A: I try to reinforce the question, ‘What is this gift truly for?’ Ali recognized he had an extreme gift, but he understood there was such a bigger purpose. You have to understand that and ask yourself, are you willing to use your gift for that bigger purpose?
Q: What do you think is important for securing a family’s future?
A: My parents had a small grocery store in the west end of Louisville where I bagged groceries when I was 9, 10 years old. Walking in there knowing we had some ownership was very powerful. Even when my father was coaching, he and my mother continued their entrepreneurialism, forming a logistics and transportation company. My father knew his job, especially as an African-American head coach in college in the early 90s, was not secure. It never is. I’ve always seen their work ethic as not only necessary but aspirational. It’s important to have some component of your work where you can have ownership and aren’t always dependent on another person or company.
Q: What would you say has impacted you most in your life?
A: The two huge contributors to who I am are my mother’s faith and basketball. Those have been intermingled throughout my whole life, ever since I can remember, from the time I learned to walk — I learned to walk on the basketball court.
Q: Why is the work-life balance so important to fathers?
A: You often hear about dads who, because they’re gone so much, become fathers to others; they’re community leaders but their families suffer. We didn’t see that. My father, how he was as a husband is how he was as a man in the community, as a teacher, as a leader. He did all this while still being an incredible example of love to us. We didn’t see any conflict or any gap in who he was.
Q: Was it weird for you to call your father “coach”?
A: My father never pressured me. He coached so many great athletes and saw what it took for them to get there so he wanted me to find that on my own. There was never any question in my mind I was going to play for him when he got the job at Tennessee. He surrounded me with other players and coaches to reinforce his messages so he didn’t have to be the only one I’d respect. The respect I had for him only deepened because he put me in an environment I loved and wanted to be in where I could get the message from other people I looked up to.
Q: How are you working to shape the future of fatherhood?
A: A lot of these young men and women just don’t have that person they can come home to on a daily basis for consistent communication, accountability, structure, and trust. Someone who can say, ‘This is how you should say this, do this, and think about this.’ We’re humans and we’re built for relationships. In [the Father Knows Best] program, the goal is to build a trusting relationship between a child and a father or father figure.
Q: Why is the father figure so important in family life?
A: Fathers and male figures are such important factors in children’s lives. Every man, whether they have children or not, deals with that role. We’re all here to give what we have — it’s not for us, we’re really not our own. Being aware of that, you can start to think of how you can impact people around you. Take a step back and see how you can use your influence to make our children’s lives better. The other thing is using influence to help the education system, the criminal justice system, to institutionally give these young men a chance.
Q: Why do you have such a large family?
A: I got a starting five and a bench.
Q: Tell us about your wife.
A: My son and I were watching the NBA Finals with my wife and I said, ‘If your mother played basketball, what kind of player would she be?’ He and I both said Draymond Green. She has such a strong spirit and passion for life. Every second, she gives more than 100 percent. To manage what we have, you have to and she loves it. She might be tired or express the reality of something that happened, but never is it a complaint. She’s incredible. I don’t know how she does it. There are times when I want to pinch her to see if that’s real skin, like she’s a machine.
Q: What has been your proudest moment?
A: Game 6 of the 1998-99 Eastern Conference Finals. Our first child was due any day, and we knew that if we won that game at home that night, we would have time … I was hoping my wife wouldn’t have the baby at the Garden! I had this peace where I didn’t feel any pressure going in. In the back of my mind I felt like it was all outside of me. Sure enough, I started poorly, but things came along late in the game and it was a great moment for a lot of reasons. We had gone through so much that year and we were going to the Finals — and my daughter was born the next day. That sealed an incredible run.
Allan Houston hails from Louisville, KY and graduated from the University of Tennessee before being drafted eleventh overall by the Detroit Pistons in the 1993 NBA Draft. Houston played for the New York Knicks from 1996-2005, helped lead them to the 1999 NBA Finals, and is currently the team’s Assistant GM and General Manager of the Westchester Knicks. Houston and his wife Tamara have 7 children, 5 daughters and 2 sons between the ages of 17 and 4. Since retiring, Houston has become a spokesperson for the National Fatherhood Initiative and his Legacy Foundation serves thousands of participants nationwide through programs in fatherhood and entrepreneurship like the “Father Knows Best” Basketball Retreat & FISLL Curriculum.
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