Former NBA star Antawn Jamison's parents, Albert and Kathy, went on vacation to New Orleans 10 years and one week ago.
"And all of a sudden, everyone was being told to get out," Jamison says.
Jamison had just finished his seventh of 16 NBA seasons. He made his first All-Star Game in his first season with the Washington Wizards. He made a better life for himself and his family, and here his parents were, stuck in New Orleans. Getting hit by Hurricane Katrina.
Jamison was born in Shreveport, Louisiana, where Albert and Kathy were both raised. In August 2005, the couple, who had moved to Charlotte, went back to Louisiana to visit family and friends.
"I'm trying to do everything possible to help them out," Jamison remembers. "They were in a situation, where we saw what was going on television, with people being stuck, and you heard stories about no electricity. People could not take showers or anything of that nature."
The Jamisons found safety during the hurricane in a hotel, but the realities of the storm set in. Jamison communicated with his parents via cell phone for the "first couple days," but phone towers eventually went dead. He tried to get helicopters, but New Orleans was helpless.
"For a good three or four days, I'm only reading about or hearing about what's on the radio or TV," Jamison says. "I have my parents, who were in the middle of this tragedy and something that's affecting us all as a nation. To have my parents there and not being able to get out, those three or four days were the toughest days for me."
The Jamisons would have been stranded for longer had it not been for Albert's craft.
"Fortunately, my dad is a mason," Jamison cracks.
Albert pulled out some tools and got on the road for Houston. A few days later, Jamison had them on a flight home.
"Something like this could still take place," Jamison says. "I don't think you can ever plan for anything like that."
Although he moved to Charlotte around age 13, Jamison never lost connection to Louisiana. NBA stops in Golden State, Dallas and Washington by the time of Katrina were just that–stops.
In 2008, Jamison made his second All-Star Game, which was played in New Orleans. As part of the festivities, players had a community service requirement. Jamison helped build a playground.
"I'm a big advocate about helping out kids and giving them the opportunity to play," Jamison says. "Having a playground in my neighborhood and being able to stay out of trouble, I feel like especially now, a lot of people are staying in and playing video games. In bad cases, a lot of times kids don't have the opportunity to have a playground to play at in their neighborhood. I loved how it went there."
Jamison was introduced to KaBOOM!, a non-profit organization that provides active play to children, especially impoverished American children. Since Katrina, KaBOOM! has attained more than $27.1 million and used 43,791 volunteers to rebuild playgrounds in the Gulf Coast. Since the 2008 All-Star Game, Jamison has partnered with KaBOOM!
"Kids are growing up faster," Jamison says. "They're spending more time in front of the TV. I'm a big advocate about playgrounds, giving kids the chance to be successful academically and things of that nature."
Jamison dug back into his birthplace. He funded his first playground through KaBOOM! in Shreveport. Jamison followed with a build in Charlotte and two in Washington D.C. He worked alongside Michelle Obama for the 2011 Congressional Day of Service.
"This is my calling, to continue to affect people in a positive way," Jamison says. "My job is not done just because I'm done playing the game of basketball and people may not recognize me."
Jamison left the Wizards for the Cavs in 2010. He finished his career with two seasons in Los Angeles, one for the Lakers and one from the Clippers, before retiring in 2014.
Jamison resides in Charlotte, but on the 10-year anniversary of Katrina, he still has that special connection to his roots in Louisiana, where the infrastructure continues to be rebuilt.
"I look at it as God has blessed me with the talent to play ball, but also to give back to the less fortunate and give back to kids," Jamison says. "For me, it's recognizing that I have to be an example and it's not all about 16 years of playing out my dream. It's about building playgrounds, about building houses, doing a shoe drive during wintertime, giving back to kids who might not be able to have the opportunity to do what I did."
Jamison finished with career averages of 18.5 points, 7.5 rebounds and 1.6 assists. His No. 33 at North Carolina is retired. He was a National College Player of the Year Award winner and NBA Sixth Man of the Year winner. Now stats that matter now come in playgrounds erected.
"As long as they're willing to have me back them up, I'm going to continue to do so as long as possible," he says.
This past week, KaBOOM! organized two new playground builds in New Orleans, while also setting up events to share stories for the 10-year anniversary of Katrina.
-- Follow Jeffrey Eisenband on Twitter @JeffEisenband.