Joe Dumars, Mark Henry and Lacey Henderson are three athletic greats from three different generations.
They have walked different paths in their athletic journeys but share an identical message when it comes to dealing with young people.
It all starts at home.
Parents are the real coaches. Before a kid ever picks up a baseball bat, throws a football or joins a team at school, the folks play the most important role in early development.
To that end, the Central Texas chapter of the Positive Coaching Alliance is doing great work in promoting the right message to youngsters and their families. The PCA partnered with the University of Texas’ Division of of Diversity and Community Engagement to treat more than 100 local student-athletes and their families to a day of laughs, lunch and life lessons Saturday with UT basketball great Lance Blanks serving as the moderator at Bellmont Hall.
Dumars, the son of working-class parents in Natchitoches, La., won a pair of NBA championships with the Detroit Pistons before Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls took center state in the 1990s. The mild-mannered Dumars, Blanks’ former Pistons teammate and his best friend of 25 years, was the most universally respected of the infamous Bad Boys because, first, he was really good and, second, he didn’t try to live up to his team’s reputation as the resident bullies on the NBA block.
“I don’t want kids to think being humble means you can’t be a fierce competitor,” he told the campers. “You can be both.”
The Hall of Famer, whose name is attached to the NBA’s Sportsmanship Award, implored the campers to establish their own identities — “peer pressure is weakness,” he said — while listening to their parents and enjoying their sport of choice.
Jordan called him the most difficult defender he ever encountered, and Dumars revealed a possible reason for that success, outside of a tireless dedication to his craft.
Jordan “thrived on guys who came out and talked (trash),” Dumars said. “I made a decision early that no matter what he did on the court, good, bad or indifferent, I wasn’t going to react. … He would make an incredible play, and I would turn and run back down the court as if nothing happened. But in my mind I was like, ‘Damn, did he just do that?’ ”
Henry, a champion powerlifter, is a member of the WWE Hall of Fame Class of 2018 and a longtime supporter of youth causes. He’s the first to admit he wasn’t always the finished product we see today. Bullied as a boy in Silsbee, Henry thought the answer to problem solving was in his fists. But he learned — thanks to some great mentors in his life, from his mother to his coaches, including the late Dr. Terry Todd, a UT campus fixture who served not only as his lifting coach but a surrogate father — that true growth comes from within.
“I’m not taking to the grave all the things I’ve learned in sports,” Henry said. “It would be a disservice not only to my parents and the people that coached me but to myself.”
The most powerful moment of the session came when Henry issued a personal challenge to the attendees with Henderson sitting beside him.
“You cannot look in your coach’s face ever again and say, ‘I’m tired. I’m hurt. I don’t want to do it,’ ” he said. “Lacey lost a leg. Challenge yourselves as athletes from today on to be better. I want PRs from you guys. This is an Olympic athlete with one leg.”
And one huge heart.
Henderson, 29, lost a leg to cancer at age 9 but didn’t allow a disability to keep her from becoming a competitive cheerleader at the University of Denver and later a champion Paralympian. She set national records in the long jump and 200 meters in her class and won bronze in the 100 meters at the 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials before competing in the Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.
Henderson’s mom, Linda, told me she and Lacey’s father, T.J. Henderson, a former national decathlon champion, left the decision to amputate up to their daughter.
What followed was a heaping helping of tough love, some needed humor and encouragement as she had to relearn things a typical 9-year-old takes for granted, like walking and riding a bicycle. Not long after learning again to walk, she was turning cartwheels in the front yard, to their amazement.
“The gift my parents gave to me was independence,” said Henderson, who recently moved to Austin from Phoenix. “They knew the coaches played a role and that was their job, and they showed up when I had competitions. They just let me be Lacey outside of all of it.”
Henderson’s talk really resonated with Danielle Borra, a McNeil High School graduate who received a $1,000 scholarship — along with Hutto’s Tavian Miles — from PCA Executive Director Trennis Jones. Borra will attend Ohio State, and Miles will attend Abilene Christian.
“She’s an example of why you should always keep going even when you get the highest adversity,” Borra said. “It’s really inspiring.”