Detroit — During Jerami Grant’s first season with the Pistons, he was just trying to find his legs. Just trying to find an identity on the court and how he would fit with a new team after signing a three-year contract worth $60 million.
It’s also about finding a fit with a new city and a new community. There’s an inextricable link between all of those things for Grant, each as important to his sense of self and belonging, along with his desire to be a light and a positive influence — both on and off the court.
Grant has elevated his status in the league, putting himself in All-Star consideration after a career year last season, then making Team USA, which won the gold medal in the Olympics last summer.
On the court, he’s on the cusp of star status, but Grant also has a cloak of anonymity that he can blend in well enough to still walk around downtown and not be noticed or not be bothered. Even at 6-foot-8, he was able to take a short jaunt to a convenience store.
During those walks from his hotel, Grant often encountered people living on the street, and he readily engaged them in conversations.
“It’s something that has always been close to me, helping out homeless people in whatever way, whether it’s a food drive or a coat drive or whatever,” Grant told The Detroit News. “I was staying at the Shinola and there’s a CVS down the street, and I used to walk to the CVS to get whatever. I’d walk by a few homeless people, and there was one, in particular, and he was pretty intelligent.
“He was talking to me about the struggles and how they had shut down the homeless shelter that was in the city and how they needed an ID in order to get into another one, and just a bunch of struggles — and it just made me want to give back to that.”
Those interactions spurred Grant to do something beyond just pulling a few dollars out of his pocket and continuing on his way. Grant engaged in those conversations, and those talks made an impression on him.
He has been working to open a homeless shelter on the city’s west side, near Central High School. Grant’s been involved in the process, impacted by those talks with the people he met and trying to figure out a way he could do more.
“I just I think for me, it’s wanting to help people. I think that’s a part of who I am, so it’s easy for me to have a conversation with somebody who’s in need, and especially somebody who can communicate the need that they have,” Grant said. “It’s easy for me — that’s a part of who I am. To be able to have that conversation is almost normal for me, but not normal for everyone.”
Grant, 27, said he had multiple interactions with a man named Mr. McCullough, among others, and in trying to get a better understanding of the need for more homeless resources in Detroit.
According to the 2020 State of Homelessness annual report provided by the Homeless Action Network of Detroit, there was a decrease of 22% from 2019 to 2020. The number of shelter referrals dropped from 7,386 in 2019 to 5,917 in 2020.
The numbers don’t tell the full story of a more complicated issue with homelessness and the impact it’s having on families and children, especially.
Having the conversations with Mr. McCullough helped give a face to the problem.
“I met this guy about three or four times. We had conversations and we were talking. I’d see him and I’d say, ‘What’s up?’ to him,” Grant said. “I saw him a few months ago when I was driving (downtown) to get some food. Whenever I feel like I should have a conversation with somebody that’s in a situation like that, I will — I’m never opposed to it.”
Rapper Kendrick Lamar explores a similar theme in his “How Much a Dollar Cost,” a seminal exploration into interactions with people living on the street. In many cases, the stereotypical assumption is that a homeless person will use the money for drugs or alcohol.
More instances show that there are displaced people who need some assistance in getting back on their feet after a hardship situation. The pandemic seems to have altered some of those issues, because of the government halting evictions, but the need hasn’t gone away.
Grant didn’t just want to be a benefactor for the project; he wanted to understand what he was investing in and the impact that it would have on the community. Grant’s three-year contract with the Pistons presumes that he won’t be around for the long term, but he seems to be trying to dig in roots and to make a mark on the city beyond what he does on the court.
“It’s always nice when players embrace the market they play in and when they want to go above and beyond to give back,” said Erika Swilley, Vice President of Community and Social Responsibility for the Pistons. “For Jerami, this is a unique way to leave a legacy and make an impact in the city of Detroit. One of the reasons he said he came to Detroit was that it was a predominantly Black city and he is putting his time and his resources into this project.”
In his typical behind-the-scenes style, Grant didn’t want to share much of what his plan would be. He initially wanted to keep things to himself, but when his marketing rep, Lauren Walsh, found out, the project started to grow on a bigger scale.
“I’m really involved with it. Originally, it was going to be something smaller scale where were taking a homeless shelter that they already had, and we were going to take the same structure that they have from there and put it in a new one,” Grant said. “But now, a lot of people are getting into it, so we’re going to do that, but we’re going to add more to it. It’s going to almost be like a community center.
“It’ll have that aspect people who are homeless are living there and they’ll have their space, and outside we’ll have a basketball court. People in the community will be able to go there and get food and donate. It turned into something a lot bigger with the sharing. Usually, I don’t really share a lot of things I do, but I’m happy I did.”
Grant’s father, Harvey, and his uncle Horace played in the NBA as well. He’s from a big family, but the notion of giving back to the community came wasn’t new to him once he made it big in the NBA; it’s been bred in him.
“I think I got a lot from my mom, and then myself. I think that’s just who I am. I grew up always wanting to give,” Grant said. “I have three brothers, so everything is not about you. You want to give and to see people happy. I think that’s something that was always me.”Wizards at Pistons
►Tip-off: 7 p.m., Wednesday, Little Caesars Arena
►Outlook: The Wizards (14-11) were one of the surprise teams in the league, but they’ve hit a rough patch, losing four of their last five games. The Pistons (4-19) have lost nine straight, including a fourth-quarter collapse Monday against the Oklahoma City Thunder.