Dallas Mavericks forward Dorian Finney-Smith, a jubilant and optimistic person by nature, was noticeably more reserved and mellow on Monday afternoon. Times are tough for families, he said, and the coronavirus pandemic has led to an unusually high demand for food.
The fifth-year veteran had just spent the day with his family giving away hundreds of free turkeys to families in his hometown of Portsmouth, Va., and neighboring Norfolk.
The annual Finney Family First Foundation turkey giveaway is usually a festive affair, Finney-Smith said. But what he witnessed this year was a sucker punch to the reality of life for so many people amid the global pandemic and economic hardships.
“It was great to see all the people, but it was also really, really sad,” Finney-Smith said. “First of all, everyone had to stay in their cars and we couldn’t hug or anything. Then, another reality hit because the cars kept coming and we ran out of food. So many people need food right now. They are hurting.”
Last year, Finney-Smith remained in Dallas to dish out turkeys with the Mavericks at Buckner International, while his mother and brother stayed in Virginia to host the turkey giveaway. He said they usually have so much food left over that everyone gets extra, but that wasn’t the case at all this year. The need was simply too great.
“We had more cars than ever and we ran out of food,” Finney-Smith said. “We tried to prepare and get more than usual, but we still ran out of turkeys and had to turn people away. That was hard, really hard. We did our best…but there’s just a great need out there right now.”
A big part of Finney-Smith’s story is that he never wanted his professional basketball status to disconnect him from the streets. After all, it was the people in Portsmouth that helped sculpt him into the leader he is today, and he desires to give children and families the same fighting chance.
Finney-Smith’s mother, Desiree Finney-Henderson, raised six children all alone and worked tirelessly to give her kids the best life possible. However, it wasn’t always easy, and for this reason, Finney-Smith has a deep desire to help others, especially right now.
Back in June, Finney-Smith quietly made a charitable donation to the Portsmouth Food Service Program to feed 200 families, specifically children who normally receive meals from school services.
“Growing up and seeing my mom, I know how it feels,” Finney-Smith said in an interview this past summer. “We got lunch free going to school. Sometimes you had to rely on that. I know some kids don’t get it and we wanted to help them. Everybody isn’t blessed, so sometimes you got to be a blessing.”
Mark Palamarchuck, director of parks, recreation and leisure services for the City of Portsmouth, said Finney-Smith’s donation fed thousands of people during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“That is why we were so thankful when we were approached by Dorian’s very generous offer of a donation to assist us with these efforts,” Palamarchuck said. “That means 800 to 1,000 people are not going to have to worry about where their next meal comes from for a few days. It means a lot to those families, and it means a lot to us.”
The Finney Family First Foundation aims to inspire youth to become productive members of society by providing service to the community.
Each summer, Finney-Smith and his family typically hosts camps in Virginia and clinics in Dallas, but the coronavirus prevented that from happening this year. Instead, the family came together and set up a drive-through food distribution event at Norcom High School — the high school where Dorian once starred at — and gave away groceries, socks, toiletries, books and dog food to families.
The flyer for the event outlined just how important Finney-Smith is to the community there: “the event will be sponsored by Portsmouth’s native son, Dorian Finney-Smith.”
“I have so much love for the city that raised me,” Finney-Smith said.
It’s the same kind of love he has for the game of basketball, which he credits for simply giving him a platform to give back and help other families. This week is the final time he will be in Virginia before returning to Dallas to prepare for the new upcoming basketball season.
Finney-Smith said the quick turnaround will be tough, but he’s ready for what’s ahead.
“I already had stuff going on with my hips, so I just got to get back healthy and get back in shape and try to be back as healthy as I can,” Finney-Smith said. “But after seeing what people are dealing with in life, I approach basketball just like it’s a blessing. It’s a job and one that I care about. I’m mentally in a good place and I’m just doing my best to stay in shape and keep working on my game.”
Finney-Smith, better known as Doe Doe to his family and teammates, said he spent the off-season staying at home and “just kicking it with the kids.” There was no traveling or anything this year because of the coronavirus, so he chose to spend the time family, including his daughter and son. The highlight of his off-season was “going out to a couple of restaurants,” and that was about it.
Lately, however, Finney-Smith has been trying to focus on what might be a grueling season that’s less that a month away with an entire new roster of new players.
“I played Josh (Richardson) in college, so we have been playing each other for awhile,” said Finney-Smith, who is also undergoing his COVID-19 testing protocol right now to prepare for the season. “I don’t know James Johnson personally, but I know him from playing against him. He plays my position, so I guarded him. The NBA community is a small world, so we are all connected in some way. I am excited for our team and what’s ahead.”
However, Finney-Smith said there will be plenty of time to talk about basketball with training camp right around the corner. For now, he’s looking forward to spending his first Thanksgiving in a long time back at home.
“I’m really excited to be back home,” Finney-Smith said. “We are usually in season right now, so I’m just going to enjoy time with my family and do my very best to help others along the way.
He said the bright lights and big stage will never change him.
“I don’t do any of this for recognition or applause. It’s not about me. It’s all about them. It’s about the people. It’s about the kids. I go out and work hard and compete just so that I can come back and do my best to help the people. That’s what it’s about. That’s the bigger picture here.”
Story: Tamara Jolee, Dallas Mavericks
Photos: Courtesy of Finney Family First Foundation
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