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Lakers Open Learning Center

Players spend day off with members of the Watts/Willowbrook Boys and Girls Club as part of NBA's Read to Achieve program.

June 08, 2004|Kelsie Smith | Times Staff Writer

Monday was supposed to be the Lakers' day off. And it was, for some.

Not, however, for Derek Fisher, Luke Walton, Kareem Rush and Brian Cook, who had a full schedule the day after losing Game 1 of the NBA Finals to Detroit.

Only an hour after practice had ended, they were at Roy W. Roberts II Watts/Willowbrook Boys and Girls Club to help dedicate a reading and learning center.

During the 2001 Finals, the NBA's Read to Achieve program began having the Eastern and Western Conference champions dedicate reading centers in their hometowns.

The Lakers' Reading and Learning Center has $5,000 worth of books and materials donated by Scholastic, and new Dell computers and printers. Next week the Pistons will dedicate a center in Detroit.

After joking that he was there to get a "sneak peak" at the NBA championship trophy on display, Fisher said that reaching out to the community was a necessity.

"These young people that are a part of the club, they're watching us right now," Fisher said. "I think it means a lot to them to see us come out here."

It meant a lot to 10-year-old Anthony Brown. He has been a member at the Watts/Willowbrook Boys and Girls Club for four years. He said he was there to "celebrate with the Lakers."

Brown, who said the books were the best part of the center, added that he would use the new room "to gain more knowledge."

Jamal Bishop's agenda was similar to Brown's.

"I came to have fun with the famous people," the 11-year-old said.

Bishop said he would enjoy the new books and computers in the room and that it was important to read "so when you grow up ... you know more stuff."

After the ribbon-cutting ceremony, the Lakers, members of their families and other celebrities joined the kids in exploring the new center. Cook, last year's first-round draft pick, read to a small group with singer Macy Gray. Rush and Walton helped kids test the new computers.

Rush said an event like Monday's dedication helped keep things in perspective.

"A game is a game, but kids mean more," he said.

Said Fisher: "This is important, whether you're in the NBA Finals or not, whether you play basketball or not. This is just something that you should feel good about doing."

Les Jones, director of the Watts/Willowbrook Boys and Girls Club, said it was significant that while the nation's attention was on the Finals, the NBA showed commitment to the community.

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