Born in Louisville, Kentucky, Allan Houston is a former shooting guard for the New York Knicks where he spent a majority of his 12-year NBA career. Houston played college basketball under his father at the University of Tennessee, graduating as the school’s all-time leading scorer. He now serves as assistant general manager for the Knicks, in addition to running his foundation.
Here are his answers to The Sport of Philanthropy’s top 10 questions about his philanthropic work:
What is your motivation for giving back?
My parents have been my biggest motivators. They are the ones who inspired me to realize that life is bigger than all of us. They raised me to be conscious that my role in life is not my own. I believe we have an obligation to use our gifts and talents to respect, honor and glorify God first and foremost and show appreciation for all we have been given. Through that mentality, I developed a heart for service.
Has philanthropy always been important to you or has your charitable activity evolved over time?
I don’t consider it charity work. Everything that has evolved with my community activity is an extension of values I learned from my family, namely the five FISLL life principles: Faith, Integrity, Sacrifice, Leadership and Legacy.
These principles have become part of who I am. They never leave my mind or spirit. The things I write about and think about are the same things I talk about with my wife, children and any community organization or team. For me, FISLL is a lifestyle.
Why did you choose fatherhood and family stability as a primary cause for the Allan Houston Legacy Foundation?
As a kid, I used to watch my dad run youth clinics and serve as a mentor for programs like Big Brothers Big Sisters. Once I started participating, I began seeing the important role that adult facilitators like my dad played, especially for kids without father figures. Once I got to the NBA, I knew I wanted to become a mentor too.
I am so grateful to my father for setting a foundation of principles and creating a daily culture for me and my family. Through the example set by my father, as well as by my mother, I developed an awareness of how to treat my relationships, career, etc. and how to take ownership of myself. Having that guidance from both my parents has made all the difference for me.
How have you seen the Allan Houston Legacy Foundation’s entrepreneurship program positively impact participants and the communities they serve?
I have seen our entrepreneurship program support participants in building and maintaining long-term financial stability for themselves and their families. But at the same time, entrepreneurship is a form of empowerment that is about more than just making money. Every entrepreneur has a unique purpose and success all starts within one’s self.
Is there any particular success story you can share about a person you've helped through your foundation or other charitable work?
Several come to mind. Through the entrepreneurship program, we helped a young designer with a unique eye for fashion-forward looks to launch his own formal wear company. We also helped young entrepreneurs launch a transportation company for seniors in New Orleans who couldn’t get around after Hurricane Katrina. We’ve had a number of entrepreneurs start their own baking and catering businesses as well.
With our fatherhood program, which equips fathers with communication and life skills, I was especially proud when a judge granted one of our fathers increased visitation rights because of his participation in our program. Seeing the program’s tangible results for this particular father and his child really hit home for me.
What philanthropic accomplishment are you most proud of?
I’m very excited about the launch of The FISLL Project as a brand. As an entrepreneur, it has been an aspiration of mine to turn FISLL and the five principles that it was built around into a business enterprise that also drives social impact. By licensing and selling NBA apparel with a purpose, along with FISLL-inspired educational content, the FISLL principles can be passed on and duplicated by those engaged with the brand.
In my new ebook, Fundamentals of Life, I share details about my belief that most people want to have a sense of belonging. They want to feel validated. However, if we are solely living for ourselves, we can never satisfy this yearning to be part of a community that cares for us. Through the FISLL brand, I want people to feel connected and inspired to practice the FISLL principles in their own lives.
What are your longer term goals for your foundation?
When I think of FISLL, I think of legacy. FISLL represents three-dimensional principles that promote optimal well-being and performance. My goal is to leave a legacy of helping people strengthen and enhance their whole being — mind, body and spirit.
Through the products FISLL produces and aligns itself with, and through our various partnerships, I want to continue growing the reach of FISLL programs, including our Fathers Knows Best basketball workshops as well as our Ticket Together program, which provides tickets to high-level events for fathers and male mentors so they can share a memorable experience with their sons and mentees.
Who or what has helped you most in your philanthropic work?
My relationship with Christ has been instrumental. It’s given me a navigation system where I don’t have to worry about what other people think. I have already been given internal fortitude and direction. In a world where people can be very critical and try to diminish your value, centering my life around Christ has been invaluable. Believing in a higher power has given me peace and a positive model to follow.
Who else in the sports world do you see as inspirational in their philanthropic work?
David Robinson for one. He has always been intentional and dliligent about helping others and encouraging fellow athletes to set up their own social impact initiatives.
I also appreciate what Lebron James and Jalen Rose are doing with their respective schools. Building an educational facility with proper staffing can be a highly impactful model. Regardless of having a facility though, my biggest objective is to provide training at the highest level for adults who are influential in the lives of youth, including parents, teachers and coaches.
What advice would you give other athletes and influential sports figures seeking to use their platforms to create positive social impact and better the world?
My advice all ties back to the FISLL principles. You first have to create your own vision and identity and then figure out what’s really important to you and where you want to have an impact. Next, you have to build a structured plan and don’t deviate from it. You have to commit to making a difference and exercise discipline and sacrifice in your pursuit just like you would with your professional career.
Also, it’s essential to surround yourself with people to hold you accountable, just like you do as an athlete on a team. You need someone to tell you what you have to hear, not always what you want to hear. It has to be someone whose interests are aligned with yours and who can carry your banner, but who is not willing to just be a “yes” person.
Lastly, every person you meet is a potential supporter. I learned this from Alonzo Mourning. Your brand is everything you do or say, and it all makes an impression. You have to ensure your words are consistent with whatever you are doing in the community if you expect people to support your efforts.