Superstar On and Off the Court

Devin Harris has become a superstar. At twenty-six years old, he makes big money, drives cool cars, travels the world as a basketball ambassador (two trips to China this year) and is the face of NBA’s New Jersey Nets.

But in many ways, the 6’ 3’’ Milwaukee native is the same guy who quietly rode his moped to classes and played guard for Wisconsin just five years ago.

With the Nets, he wears number 34, as he did with the Badgers. He’s formed a foundation called 34 Ways To Assist, which benefits Make-A-Wish Foundation, Big Brothers Big Sisters, Boys & Girls Clubs of Kenosha and Milwaukee and others. This summer, he held free camps in Milwaukee, Madison and Stoughton to promote healthy and active lifestyles for kids.

When Harris’ name is on the camp, he’s there too. He’s right there to coach the campers and spend valuable one-on-one time. And he doesn’t just teach basketball; he talks to them about the challenges in their lives.

Harris wasn’t born into stardom. He grew up on the corner of 40th and Hampton in Milwaukee and remembers hanging out at Stark Park, shooting hoops with the older kids and developing his skills. His family “bounced between middle and lower class,” he says, and it was a real challenge when his Dad was laid off from his job at Harnischfeger Corporation when Harris was in high school.

In addition to his parents, though, Harris had a mentor to help him through the rough times. Tony Smith, the former Wauwatosa East, Marquette and NBA player, taught him the right way to do things, to deal with the fame and fortune basketball can bring, and the importance of giving back to your community when you have so much.

“Kids are so fragile,” Harris says. “They’re so easily influenced. I think in today’s society, if they have something positive to follow, they’re going to tend to follow that.”

He had that guidance in his own life. Now he’s passing it on.

Jay Wilson is sports director at WISC-TV.

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