NEW YORK — On the Saturday before Thanksgiving, Nets forward Cam Johnson carved out time to support his community.
Johnson, 27, handed out boxes of healthy food on a basketball court outside Brooklyn’s NYCHA-operated Marcy Houses, where he also snapped selfies and offered words of encouragement to the kids who came to see him.
A rare midseason afternoon off allowed Johnson to further immerse himself in the borough he calls home 10 months after the Nets acquired him in the blockbuster trade that sent Kevin Durant to Phoenix.
“These kids look up to us,” Johnson said at the event, where he teamed up with the nonprofit Wellfare to distribute “Eat & Move Better Boxes.”
“I was just talking to some of them, just about daily habits and what it takes to be successful in whatever they want to be successful in,” Johnson continued. “The thing that I appreciate about this job is that the kids listen. I think the very unique and beneficial advantage that I have in this job is that when I talk to them, I have their attention. So whether I give them just a minute, two minutes, of my time, I feel like I can give them a message that may help them, give them something to think about.”
It’s a responsibility Johnson embraces. The 6-8 forward, who signed a four-year extension with Brooklyn over the summer, is a building block for the team’s future, and he’s similarly interested in helping his community grow.
“Brooklyn is one of the most unique markets for an NBA team in that everything we do is really ingrained in this borough,” Johnson said. “It’s not tons of square mileage. It’s a lot of communities, a lot of different people, packed into a small area with a lot of culture. So being able to tap into that and grow the game maybe, and in the process even grow our own brand, but just help, just help, and be a positive voice, be a positive light.”
On Saturday, Johnson and Wellfare handed out 315 of the boxes, which accounted for $80,000 in donations, the nonprofit said. The 30-pound boxes contained nutrition bars, non-dairy milk, zero-sugar seltzers and healthy pastas. Representatives with the Hospital for Special Surgery also attended the event, where they offered yoga mats, pedometers, resistance bands, blood pressure screenings and educational resources.
In March, Johnson – along with Nets coach Jacque Vaughn and Liberty center Jonquel Jones – visited Sunset Park’s P.S. 001 through a partnership between the teams and NYC Public Schools to bring free basketball clinics to students.
“Across the board, guys have taken that next step,” Vaughn said Saturday at Nets practice. “This is a place they’re gonna be. Investing in the community, so it’s awesome to see, especially this time of year.”
Johnson, a career 39.1% three-point shooter, has started each of his 31 appearances since joining the Nets last season, averaging 16.0 points per game.
“We like to think we’re a gritty team that’s gonna play hard, and I think that’s kind of the calling card of what this city is,” Johnson said. “It’s just working people from all different backgrounds, but a community. A big community.”