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Allan Houston on Fatherhood, the NBA Bubble, and Being Neighbors with Muhammad Ali

The former Knicks player is a father of seven. Here's what he thinks about the state of the NBA, COVID-19, and his own neighborhood.

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Retired NBA New York Knicks shooting guard Allan Houston has seven kids. Seven. In case you can’t tell, that’s a hell of a lot of children. He’s been home in Connecticut with them since March when the world effectively shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Is he yelling at them to put down their phones? Pissed off at having to share the remote? “I try to take the glass is half-full-approach,” he says.

That means viewing this extra time together as a gift, instead of one big massive foul. Now that he’s hung up his jersey, Houston runs his own charitable foundation and is working as an advisor to the Knicks and the NBA as a whole; the league has players playing in isolation, living in a so-called bubble in Orlando, and following strict safety protocols. Houston spoke to Fatherly about bubbles, fatherhood, and what he learned from one of the greatest of all time: Muhammad Ali. 

Let’s start with the NBA bubble in Orlando. It seems to be working, and the finals are slated for the end of September. What’s your take on it and why has it succeeded so far where other sports have dealt with COVID outbreaks?

Everyone asked, ‘What is the safest way for us to do this?’ The game allowed there to be a bubble. Now we have to make sure we’re extra precautious and proactive and really vigilant on staying healthy and having the proper protocols.

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You gotta make sure you take care of the health and the wellbeing of the players. It’s worked so far. The players have to take it seriously. If this is your job and you’ve been suspended for four months, you’re going to take it seriously. This is my job. Am I putting myself or anyone at risk? You want to make sure you’re healthy and those who you love are healthy. Once you have peace of mind there, every practice, game, championship — you have to channel your inner purpose and passion for doing something you love. You’re impacting a lot of people.

And yet, it must be nice to be retired at this point in time and just to be home with the kids. All seven of them. That must be rewarding for you.

The most rewarding part is them having a real understanding of who they are, from a historical standpoint, from a spiritual perspective, from a social perspective. When you get to see how they have been able to grow and experience the world and impact the people around them. When people come up to me and tell me the type of people my children are, that’s the greatest experience and greatest reward. You see the fruit of everything you pour into them. Being home for four, five months have been a blessing in a lot of ways. It has allowed me to deepen my relationship with my family but also with my mission and purpose.

How does that manifest itself in terms of being a dad?

Fatherhood is a deeply spiritual experience that a man gets called into. God gives a man the unbelievable opportunity and blessing to see new life, to bring new life into the world. It’s the highest calling of a man. I try to keep things simple. For my family, Christmas was big growing up. I remember Christmas Day, we’d open our presents. Years go, I was on a road trip and came home and my kids greeted me. Being a father is like Christmas every single day.

Given what’s happening in the world, in particular, the Black Lives Matter protests, how do you teach your kids about being responsible citizens and being engaged and aware?

They’ve been aware but more so now than ever. It’s opened up a deeper and wider dialogue. They’re starting to see probably an intensity that I don’t think I saw as much of. It’s created some great dialogue. Just yesterday, our family watched the John Lewis documentary. We talked about it. My mother grew up two doors down from Muhammad Ali. The thing we start with and come back to is values. How our values come from our faith, family heritage, and how we want to contribute. The love between my wife and I is true and authentic and we don’t have all the answers.

Wait, let’s back up. Muhammad Ali?

Muhammad Ali — he was older. He came to our house a few times when I was young. I saw him a few times over the years. He’d always ask about my mother. He certainly remembered my mother’s family. He was the type of person, he made everyone feel like they grew up two doors down from him. That’s his essence and his power. It’s a cool thing. He treated every person the same. We’re so sensitive to what other people think about us and that is what he did not do.

You also run the Allan Houston Legacy Foundation, and just launched the FISSL (Faith, Integrity, Sacrifice, Leadership, and Legacy) Project, which serves as the brand’s signature social impact arm. What inspired it?

The inspiration was from my relationship with my father. As we were doing a lot of retreats for men to help them with their relationships — we want to provide something that would live on, a strategy for developing healthy relationships and lifestyles. Trusting relationships, authentic relationships. It’s been an honor and a blessing. I don’t look at it as an obligation. I look at it as my identity. It’s just what you do. It’s like getting up in the morning and getting dressed. You try to make an impact.