Amp Harris has no idea how long he’s been hosting his Saving Our Youth Celebrity Basketball Game.
“I lost track probably after year five, six, or seven,” said the Indianapolis entertainer, producer, and marketer.
But he does remember how it started.
“I went to L.A. with a friend of mine, Pooh Richardson, who used to play with the Indiana Pacers. I was in L.A. and they had a celebrity basketball game after a high school rivalry game. Ice Cube was there, Snoop Dogg, Dr. Dre – this was way back when,” he said. “And after the game was over, everybody left. The high school game was over, the entire crowd left. So, I’m sitting there like, ‘This is crazy! If I was to do something like this in Indianapolis, this would be amazing.’”
And twenty-some odd years later, it still is.
“A lot of celebrities, we take the time to come out and help embrace the whole thing. It’s always fun, every year it is,” said former Colts wide receiver Reggie Wayne, who co-hosts the event. “That’s what it’s all about, coming out here and trying to bring smiles to people’s faces.”
Saturday night’s lineup featured former Colts greats Reggie Wayne, Robert Mathis, and Edgerrin James alongside Pacers, actors, entertainers, media personalities, and Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett.
“I think when people see positive images, they are drawn to that – no matter what level you’re at,” said Harris. “If you’re a mayor of a city or you’re a multimillionaire athlete, you can easily find yourself humbled enough to see that there’s more to it than what money brings to the table.”
That’s always been the case for Mathis.
“It hits close to home. I came up from humble beginnings and so, it’s all about paying it forward and encouraging children and just chasing your dreams,” he said.
Mathis met Harris through James and Wayne his rookie year. They became fast friends and they’ve remained that way ever since.
“He’s very selfless. I can’t speak enough about him. He’s a great friend of mine and I hold that dear,” Mathis said. “He just stays in the corner, doesn’t call attention to himself. He just goes about his business of helping people. That’s what he does.”
For Mathis, it’s about the kids, supporting his friend, and spending time with his former teammates.
“When I came in the door, these were the elder statesmen on the team. Edgerrin James was an established veteran superstar in the league and they just embraced you.”
Rookie tackle Zach Banner said that’s still the case.
“Those guys are legends and they’re big brothers now. Rob and those guys, they take good care of me and welcomed me to Indy. I live right up the block now, so this is the neighborhood, this is family, this is home.”
A former basketball player himself, Banner didn’t play in the game, but he came out to support the cause – and the players.
“We’re not worried about winning. We’re not worried about scoring points. We’re worried about bad things happening,” he said. “These are old men. So, we need to make sure that these old men do not fall apart. That’s my job today – make sure they don’t fall apart.”
They may be retired from football, but for these Colts legends, there’s no retiring from giving back to the city that gave them so much. On Friday, they spent some time with inner city youth.
“Me and Reggie went to the Wheeler-Dowe Boys and Girls Club,” said Edgerrin James. “We sat down and had a Q and A. We just had fun with the kids. It was a good interaction. It was just a nice event. It was good to come back and give back and take part in that.”
“There’s a lot of peer pressure out there,” said Wayne. “But like I told them, surround yourself with people who have the same dreams as yourself – and that’s one way you can kind of stay on track.”
Basketball is what brings them together. But the Saving Our Youth Celebrity Basketball Game isn’t really about basketball.
“Basketball is what I call the magnet. It’s the attention getter,” said Harris. “But the Saving Our Youth part of what I do is the most important part and that’s when I’m able to go out and take these celebrities into the inner cities and they sit there and they talk to these kids about life.”
In the end, Harris said it’s really about one thing.
“In one word – hope.”
The hope is that seeing success inspires kids to follow their dreams – and follow in the footsteps of those who did it right.