Rejuvenated Dalembert can’t forget native Haiti
Samuel Dalembert hasn’t missed a game in four years. Amazingly, the Haiti native played in all 82 games last year for the 76ers, the last three months in a daze.
On Jan. 12, Dalembert’s native country was hit with a massive earthquake that it was completely unprepared for. The disaster ravaged Dalembert’s homeland, displaced his relatives and friends, and resulted in an estimated 92,000 deaths.
Meanwhile, Dalembert was in Philadelphia, having just pulled down 14 rebounds in a 96-92 victory over New Orleans the previous night. It was a normal Tuesday off day, as Dalembert fulfilled community service commitments for the 76ers, then ran some errands, ignoring his cell phone for about an hour.
He eventually found 70 text and voice-mail messages on his phone that afternoon and was even more curious because he had just talked with his father Emanuel that morning.
“The first message, somebody said, ‘Hey, are you close to a TV, have you heard what’s going on in Haiti?’ ’’ said Dalembert. “I quickly picked up the phone and called home.
“You could only imagine what’s going on in your head. You want to fly over there. You want to say, ‘Man, I wish I could just disappear.’ All kinds of crazy stuff going on in your head, and it was tough for the first few days. You are hoping to God that nothing happened.’’
Dalembert’s family survived, but as one of the few professional athletes of Haitian descent, he felt a personal responsibility to help rebuild his country. And that burden lingered with him throughout a tumultuous regular season in Philadelphia.
While teammates and team officials told him they fully understood if he wanted to take a respite from basketball and return home, Dalembert refused. On the night after the earthquake, he grabbed 21 rebounds in a 1-point loss to the Knicks.
For the past seven months, Dalembert has carried out a personal campaign to send aid to Haiti. What he has witnessed has infuriated him. Months of painfully tedious progress. Millions of dollars of relief that has yet to reach the citizens who desperately need it. Hustles and cons from natives and foreigners alike to make a quick buck at the expense of those who suffered.
Dalembert formed his own foundation as a means of sending aid without the red tape. He donated $100,000 immediately and has spent his summer going back and forth to Haiti to oversee the rebuilding efforts.
Unfortunately, Dalembert doesn’t have much progress to report. According to him and published reports, most of the rubble remains, and there are bodies still buried under the debris. An ABC News report said just 2 percent of the millions of dollars donated to the Haitian effort has actually been used.
“I wish I was a doctor or a medic or something to help the people out there,’’ said Dalembert.
On Thursday, Dalembert accepted the Manny Jackson Basketball Human Spirit Award at the Hall of Fame in Springfield and reminded the audience to keep Haiti in its consciousness. He does not want it to become an afterthought when the next natural disaster strikes a Third World country.
“It’s been a disaster, and all we can hope for is more help,’’ he said. “I tried to go out there and raise a lot of money and I put up a lot of my money, too, and at the same time, you try to really work your way through it and find out if things are really getting done.
“At the same time, there were other guys who were taking advantage of the situation. Thank God I have been working with some great people and a good foundation and helping as many people as we could.’’
At the same time Dalembert was consumed with Haiti’s rehabilitation, he was expected to produce as Philadelphia’s center. While it was a listless season for the 76ers, Dalembert produced dominant rebounding and solid scoring in the paint.
Though he had one of his better seasons, the 76ers were looking to move his expiring contract. He acknowledged that he never lived down his words from a few years ago when he expressed frustration for being underutilized. Dalembert regrets those words, and believes management and fans never forgot them.
So after years of trade rumors, Dalembert was dealt to the Kings June 17 for Spencer Hawes and Andres Nocioni, ending a bumpy but productive tenure in Philadelphia. He delivered nearly a double-double every night, but it was never enough for the Philly fans, who expected more from a player with immense physical skills.
“I opened my mouth and I said I was tired of not playing in the fourth quarter and I was tired of teams outrebounding us when I know I could help,’’ he said. “When I said that, everything kind of reversed on me like I didn’t want to be there, when in fact I loved to be there. I liked Philly. I got a lot of friends there.’’
In the midst of personal turmoil, Dalembert had to accept a move from one coast to another and make the transition from a team that spent years disappointing a rabid fan base to one in the early stages of a rebuilding plan. The change and the challenge excite him. Second-year guard Tyreke Evans and rookie forward DeMarcus Cousins are potential superstars, and Dalembert will be viewed as a leader, something he has already been labeled in his home country.
While many NBA players participate in community service projects or lend their name to fund-raising efforts, Dalembert has dived into the issues of a nation pained by devastation.
His father remains in Haiti and won’t leave.
“He’s a patriotic guy,’’ Dalembert said. “He’s not going to leave the country. He said to me, ‘You know son, everybody gets to do things in their lifetime, but there’s one thing that I can do and that’s to help rebuild a country.’ He said, ‘I don’t want to be away from that. I want to be part of that. I want to make a difference.’ And I said, ‘I don’t blame you.’ ’’
Dalembert plans to build a school in Haiti in the coming years, and he is still focused on the country now, but he will report to Sacramento a month early to get accustomed to his new surroundings.
“I want to be able to make a difference,’’ he said. “I want to be able to give those kids an opportunity that they dream of. We are strong people and we make the best of the situation. But this is not the situation we should have been in. I am not saying there hasn’t been much [done], but I don’t see it really.’’
He spent five years as the Celtics point guard — he averaged 13.8 points and 7.7 assists during the 1980-81 championship season — only to be eventually replaced by Dennis Johnson.
Archibald is an authority on point guards and he has been closely watching the development of Rajon Rondo.
“I always say, if I had two guards like Rondo, I could beat anybody,’’ said Archibald. “I look at him as a penetrator and I look at him as one of the best defensive guards in the league. And that’s hard, because there’s not that many guys like that.’’
Archibald turned in a remarkable 1972-73 season for the Kansas City-Omaha Kings, averaging 34.0 points and 11.4 assists in a stunning 46 minutes per game, but the Kings, coached by Bob Cousy, finished 36-46. During Archibald’s years in Kansas City, it was a one-man show (perhaps two, with center Sam Lacey).
In one of the more astute trades of the Red Auerbach era, the Celtics sent four players, including the disappointing Sidney Wicks and the troubled Kermit Washington, to the San Diego Clippers in 1978 for Archibald, Marvin “Bad News’’ Barnes, Billy Knight, and a second-round pick. That second-rounder eventually became a high-scoring guard from Brigham Young named Danny Ainge.
Recovering from a torn Achilles’ tendon, Archibald started slowly for the Celtics in 1978-79, and once the Big Three began arriving for the 1979-80 season, his role changed. He truly embraced his transition from superstar to role player.
“People put you in a category as a scorer, and they never knew what I did when I was in high school or college,’’ said Archibald, who played three years at Texas-El Paso. “After we played a couple of exhibition games [with Larry Bird], I told people my role was easy. We have Kevin McHale, Robert Parish, Cedric Maxwell, M.L. Carr. We got players that are committed.
“In Rondo’s case, he’s got players who are committed, but the roles have changed and now we got a guard who knows and visualizes where we want the ball and we don’t have to worry about bringing the ball up. Rondo is bringing the ball up hard where guys are getting easy shots. It was the same for me.’’
Archibald was a pure scorer, but his quickness allowed him to get into the paint at will during his prime. Rondo has the same ability but has struggled with his perimeter shot. Celtics coach Doc Rivers acknowledged last week that Kobe Bryant affected the Finals series defensively because he was allowed to roam in the paint and essentially ignore Rondo’s perimeter game.
“If I can get to the basket any time I want [like Rondo], then I can work on my jump shot,’’ said Archibald. “You guys have to stop this penetration, and he hurt a lot of teams by doing that. And I think he accepted that role like, ‘I’m the quarterback. I’m the leader on this team.’ And I think they responded well. They gave him the ball where he could make decisions and they should have won [the title] this year.’’
Gary Washburn can be reached at email@example.com. Material from personal interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.