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When a Celtic Says `Stay in School'

Pro-basketball players use their star status to make a difference in kids' lives

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EDDIE Smith dribbles the basketball downcourt with perfect rhythm. The straps dangling from his bib overalls sweep the floor with each step. Then he ducks and feints through three guys to drop in an easy layup, NBA style.

Kareem Horton, in a red sweatshirt stamped with a map of Africa, picks up the ball, dribbles slowly while sizing up his opponents, then lunges toward the hoop. Swish - two points.

These young teens - displaying dazzling moves with the basketball and sporting "fade" haircuts with parts and pumped -up hightop sneakers - are younger versions of the real thing: pro basketball players.

Between alley-oop passes and slam-dunks at the Hennigan School gym in the Jamaica Plain section of Boston, Eddie, Kareem, and friends talk about their favorite NBA players and their basketball dreams. Their conversation is not unlike that of other young basketball fans' across the country. Eddie likes Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls. Junior says Reggie Lewis from the Boston Celtics is his favorite player. Kareem is partial to Kevin Johnson of the Phoenix Suns.

NBA stars are clearly their role models. And that is why the Boston Celtics, among many other NBA teams, are reaching out to inner-city youths. Last fall, the Celtics organized a community relations department to coordinate appearances for players at schools and community centers, as well as to sponsor programs like Stay in School (see story at left).

"Every player has the right to be a pro athlete and with that comes responsibilities to take that high-profile life and try to better the lives of somebody else along the way," says M. L. Carr, community-relations director for the Celtics and a former Celtics player. "Most players take it as an obligation because they know from where they've come, understand how fortunate they are, and they love to give back something. It's not just going out to give. It's rewarding. It makes them feel good to give."

One of the Celtics' main goals this year, Carr says, is to reach out to inner-city youths. "We want to see a diverse group of people at the games, and we're more interested in youth being a part of that."

Two of the hottest - and most accessible - players are Reggie Lewis and Ed Pinckney. Lewis made the NBA all-star team this year, and Pinckney was given the Sixth Star award by the team's cable TV outlet, SportsChannel, for outstanding play from the bench.

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