Professional basketball player Jamael “Horse” Lynch has facilitated offenses around the world while playing for international ball clubs in Germany and France. Nationally, he’s made the nightly assignment tough for opponents while playing for the Erie Bayhawks, LA Defenders, and North Dallas Vandals in the NBA’s D-League. Despite all of his success across the globe, the 6-foot-1 point guard and philanthropist seems most comfortable at home, dishing dimes of service to kids in the Williamsburg community he grew up in.
Through the Big and Little Skills Academy, also known as BALSA — the 501(c)(3)-certified summer youth development foundation he founded back in 2012 — Lynch teaches children a holistic approach to developing basketball and life skills — showing participants what it takes to become a professional athlete through a variation of drills.
Lynch, a former University of Rhode Island hoops standout, who earned a bachelor’s degree in marketing from the University of Massachusetts Lowell back in 2008, considers BALSA his life’s mission and works diligently to give underserved youth an opportunity to reach their truest potential.
When the dynamic floor general isn’t teaching children how to become great citizens and athletes, he’s organizing events like his annual celebrity basketball charity fundraiser and clinic, “Dribble Against Cancer,” happening on June 17 and 18, which will raise funds for New York’s St. Mary’s Children’s Hospital, to fight pediatric cancer.
We caught up with Lynch to discuss how his upbringing led to founding BALSA, where his “Horse nickname came from, and who his toughest NBA covers were.
Let’s take it back to your roots. You’re from the Williamsburg Houses in Brooklyn and have been playing basketball since you were 5 years old. Do you have any memories from your those early days out on the court?
It’s actually something that I reminisce about pretty often. I loved growing up playing in the projects and that feeling like you had to conquer your block, the entire projects, Brooklyn, and then New York City. It all started in Williamsburg Projects.
I remember the first tournament I played in. I was 8 years old and really excited about getting ready to play. This was my first real tournament and everybody was outside: my father and mother, my family — everybody was there. We were projected to win the tournament that year, and it’s the first tournament I made my name in. So, when the jump ball started, I was excited. I guess I was too excited because I caught the ball and shot it in the wrong basket.
I thought people were saying “go, go, go,” but they were saying “no, no, no.” It’s crazy thinking back on that memory and now being a professional athlete. Just knowing how far I’ve come through my journey. It’s definitely something that I’m thankful for.
Being from New York and playing the point guard position — knowing the legacy of the city’s great point guards — how special is that for you to be part of that?
It’s been great in terms of being a competitor. I’ve played all over the world, and being from Brooklyn itself — not even just New York — it’s just a different type of grit.
Having people like Stephon Marbury, Kenny Anderson, Kenny Smith, Tiny Archibald, Lenny Wilkins — so many people who played and came from New York and made it to the high level, just to be able to hopefully one day be in that conversation is a great opportunity.
You attended Bishop Loughlin Memorial High School, where Mark Jackson also went to school. I’m sure that was a constant reminder for you to always be at the top of your game. Now, the current basketball team has you to look at as a model for success. Have you been able to maintain a relationship with the school?
Yes, I have a relationship with the school and know the head coach pretty well, along with the athletic director. Their assistant coach was my team’s manager when I was there, so I’m pretty tied into the school.
As I continue with my career, and even after I retire, I’m sure I’ll be able to invest more time. There are time constraints on my schedule right now, but the school has literally changed my life. Loughlin is definitely home. I’m actually looking to have some of the players play in my annual charity celebrity game, “Dribble Against Cancer,” on the 17th.
How’s the planning been going for your fundraiser?
It’s been great, but a lot of work. A lot of strategic planning. We partnered with St. Mary’s Children’s Hospital, which is an amazing organization. We’re hoping to meet our goal of raising $100,000 for pediatric cancer.
As for the event itself, everything is in place. We have a bunch of celebrities confirmed to play in the game and hope to have more confirmed soon.
It's finally here. The BIGGEST EVENT TO KICK OFF THE SUMMER.. #DribbleAgainstCancer. We are Dribbling Against pediatric cancer and we want you all to join us. #FREEFREEFREE for Children participants. We will be hosting a basketball clinic at the end of the Dribbleathon for the youth at the Bk Bridge Park. ADULTS can participate in Zumba, Yoga or a light fitness workout after the Dribbleathon. #Helpethechange. Register and donate DRIBBLEAGAINSTCANCER.com. Rain or Shine, we will be making a change..
Outside of being able to travel the world, which is amazing within itself, what other ways has basketball shaped you into being the man you are today?
It’s been a direct correlation to my discipline, perseverance, and persistence — those things that players learn on the court from coaches and even teammates.
As an entrepreneur, as well an athlete, it allows me to use those skills that I’ve learned playing — those transferable skills — into being a better business person. Aside from that, it allows me to just be in tune with myself: mentally, spiritually, emotionally. It allows me to be centered.
It sounds like all of those skills you learned became the framework for you launching BALSA. What are some of the other skills your program teaches?
Yes. BALSA focuses on the holistic aspect of sports. We didn’t just want the youth in our program to only become better athletes. We’ve implemented yoga, nutrition, and financial literacy, so it allows the participants to understand what it means to be a professional athlete.
With yoga, we focus on being centered: mind, body, and spirit. Through nutrition, we teach them how to take care of their bodies. We also teach them public speaking, which allows them to learn how to articulate themselves in front of a camera and being comfortable articulating themselves in front of people and their peers as well.
We also look to build intrinsic value because they’re often cast off to the wayside because of circumstances and situations that are out of their control; I know that firsthand because I was that kid. So, building self-esteem, peer relations, and sportsmanship through sports — using it as an anchor and a catalyst — allows us to build our participants up in more ways than just being athletes. Those are the things that are ingrained in our program.
You touched on overcoming adversity in your own life, was there any particular circumstance that pushed you to make an impact not only in your community but worldwide?
I grew up with a lot of basketball players in my community. And they were really good. We had some that weren’t as good but could have been if they had a sense of direction and guidance. When I started Big and Little Skills Academy, I wanted to give kids in my neighborhood the opportunity to workout with a professional athlete. That’s all it was. I wanted to show them what it takes to get to that level [playing professionally].
Me coming from where they come from, and them seeing me and knowing my story, I wanted them to see that I’m tangible. I’m not just someone who they see who says “hi and bye” in a nice car. So, there wasn’t one specific thing that pushed me to launch my foundation — it was centered around filling a void.
I didn’t grow up with a father, and I didn’t really grow up with a lot of people teaching me how to play as much — there were a few people who taught me how to use my left hand and how to run the pick and roll, but I didn’t have someone over me — like kids have today with everyday training. I was mostly a raw talent.
You’ve put good use that marketing degree you earned. I recently saw a segment on NY1 News about BALSA. What other programs will you all be implementing?
We will be launching a series of different events throughout the year, including a Thanksgiving basketball tournament.
We’ve also just launched a subsidiary of BALSA called Top Elite. Which is basically a more elite approach to basketball, featuring some of the top players in the country who will participate in basketball tournaments and clinics that we’ll be offering.
In August, we’re holding a free clinic for the top players in New York City at Brooklyn Bridge Park. There’s a lot of things we’re offering through that program. We’re also doing a Halloween event and Christmas extravaganza.
This September, we’ll also be starting our first, full-fledged after school program, which will be another BALSA subsidiary and under BALSA Sports Programs. We’ll be launching at a couple of schools and this will be our flagship program. Usually, we are contracted to go into schools and hold basketball clinics, but this will be our own program and will encompass all of the things our summer camp does.
Your mission is to elevate one million youth by 2020, and it seems like you’re well on your way with all of the partnerships you’ve been able to cultivate. Do you think you’ll perhaps surpass that goal beforehand and reach two million by your deadline?
We have a long way to go; one million kids are a lot of kids, but we’re on our way. As we continue to build our program and strategic partnerships, I know we will reach our goal. We’ll reach it not only because we are an ambitious organization and have people on the ground making sure things are running, but also because of the technology that’s coming out. Pretty soon, we’ll be launching our app, which will allow us to be in different places at different times. We’ll be able to be in China and Sudan or Germany and the Dominican Republic at the same time, and aggregate different content and utilize a platform that kids and participants can see the training from and be able to join in on. We’ll be able to touch different people, God willing.
We should be able to exceed our expectations, hopefully by 2025, and hopefully, we can reach two and a half million youth — making an impact that we didn’t envision. Technology will be a huge catalyst in our growth along with strong partnerships.
Wow! You are a busy man!
You’re also a full-time dad, which is another priority. Do you want your son to follow in your footsteps and become an athlete?
I’m not going to lie: of course. I definitely want him to be an athlete. He’ll have a leg up because of me. By the grace of God. However, if he wants to do something else, by all means, I’ll support him.
I do want him to play basketball, and he’s been running around all day chasing basketballs. He’s definitely the reason why I continue to do what I do, and hopefully, he’ll follow in my footsteps and take it to another level that I couldn’t get to. He’s definitely my pride and joy.
So let’s talk about some of the things that have happened on the court. Who’s the hardest professional player you’ve ever had to guard?
Why Kyle Lowry?
I played against him in NBA camp in Vegas. At the time, he was coming into his own and on his way to becoming an All-Star. He was just really confident and knew the game and was in the league a few years already. He also really knew how to use the pick and roll effectively and was a stocky guard. He used his quickness, too. So, he was probably the hardest to guard, along with Sebastian Telfair — who I’ve played against since I was 12.
Where does your nickname “Horse” come from?
My father. He was a college athlete and was able to jump really high and could run really fast. He used to jump over cars for fun, so he was given the name — which passed down to my brother, then me, and now my son.
What are your NBA Finals predictions? [Editor’s note: This interview took place June 4 when the Warriors were up 1-0]
I think it’s going to be a battle, but Golden State will come out on top. I think the team has a lot of firepower, and not just offensively, they’re probably one of the top two best defensive teams in the league. On top of that, they have two of the top five players in the league on their team and probably the best shooter to ever play the game and the best backcourt. It’s just too much.
It doesn’t hurt that Lil B lifted the curse off of Kevin Durant when he joined team. I guess KD showed respect to the Based God.
Yeah, that definitely never hurts at all. You have to pay homage to the big homies. [Laughs]
Jamael, you’re doing a lot of incredible things for many people. What are some ways others can support your foundation?
For the “Dribble Against Cancer” fundraiser, tickets can be purchased at DribbleAgainstCancer.com.
To find out more about BALSA’s programs or to donate, people can visit our site at WeAreBALSA.com.
Photos: The Sportstyle/Instagram: BALSA