Years before Lionel Hollins won an NBA championship in 1977 as a starting guard on the Portland Trail Blazers, and decades before he coached the Memphis Grizzlies into this year’s playoffs, he was just another Las Vegas kid trying to figure out his future.
Hollins retraced his journey July 21 at the Pearson Community Center in North Las Vegas as the featured honoree at the first Homegrown Professional Players Day. Speaking in a gym filled with about 200 children, friends and supporters, the 1971 Rancho High School graduate told of being raised by his grandmother, advised the kids to discover their many talents and implored them to make smart decisions.
Hollins was recognized with 11 other Las Vegas-raised athletes who reached the pro level, including former UNLV men’s basketball stars Freddie Banks and Sam Smith, former Lady Rebel Sequoia Holmes; ex-NFL players Frank Hawkins and Vernon Fox; and active players C.J. Watson of the Chicago Bulls and Gerard Lawson of the Philadelphia Eagles.
It’s hard to say if the athletes’ messages reached the children, who were a little restless listening to the adults tell their stories. But while we often put athletes on pedestals or criticize them for not remembering their roots, this event was a refreshing reminder that many success stories have humble beginnings—and that even though our local heroes find paths that take them elsewhere, they are still very much a part of our community.