It was almost 50 years ago, but Butch Hays remembers meeting basketball legend Wilt Chamberlain like it was yesterday.
Hays is now passing on the same message from Los Angeles that day, "you can do anything, you can be anything", to a group of young Indigenous men.
The former Chicago Bulls draft pick, Newcastle Falcons point guard and NBL 232-gamer has used his beloved sport as inspiration and not-for-profit work with SNAP Programs to help create a team called Karuah Kinnections.
Around a dozen players, aged between 14 and 30, catch a mini bus together from the Port Stephens township to Broadmeadow's basketball stadium each Thursday night to play in the Newcastle men's division three competition. Hays has also dusted off his retired sneakers during the last month.
"It's definitely one of my highlights," Hays told the Newcastle Herald when reflecting on the recent experience as part of his decoarted career on the court.
Hays was contacted around six months ago to focus on "teenage youth issues" and "provide a positive role model".
Karuah Local Aboriginal Land Council deputy Michelle Perry said only a few of the boys had played basketball previously, most didn't have father figures and mental health problems were common place.
She has seen a transformation take place within the group.
"The connection the boys have made together," Perry said. "There's a strong bond and respect building up."
Thanks to donations, all team members received a pair of shoes and they now have a bag of balls to assist with practice. Upgrades to the Karuah court are also in the pipeline.
And the Kinnections produced an unexpected result in round two earlier this month, defeating the Electric Eliminators 39-37.
"I didn't think we'd win a game, but we won. It's not what it's all about, but it was such a thrill for everyone," Hays said.
Hays, now 57, recalls the childhood encounter he had with four-time NBA MVP Chamberlain following a Lakers championship.
"Wilt Chamberlain came to my youth centre in the early 70s," he said.
"He was an NBA star and rarely did community visits. But he was there that day and I'll never forget it.
"He shook my hand, well basically my arm because his hand was so big, and said 'you can do anything, you can be anyone'.
"It was really powerful. I give him a lot of credit actually. He told me I could do it and be successful. Who knows what I would have done otherwise.
"Now I'm no Wilt Chamberlain, but hopefully I can help inspire someone else."
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