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Myles Turner went to Africa and came back with life, career perspective

The Pacers center unplugged in Tanzania and learned about himself, his privilege and how he’ll approach the upcoming season: ‘It’s definitely a proving season for me’

Myles Turner is currently expected to open next season as a starting forward for the Indiana Pacers, but he is again in the midst of potential trade rumors. The seven-year NBA veteran, who has averaged 12.7 points and 6.7 rebounds in his career, has also taken pride in traveling the globe, with his latest excursion being a trip to Tanzania in July in which he helped build water wells, donated medical supplies, took part in basketball clinics, and also enjoyed sightseeing that included two safaris.

Turner was inspired to take his first trip to Africa by former Pacers teammate Malcolm Brogdon, who has helped countless people from Tanzania and Kenya gain access to clean water wells needed to survive by raising money through the Hoops4Humanity arm of his Brogdon Family Foundation.

Turner recently talked to Andscape about his life-changing first trip to Africa in the following “As told to …”

Indiana Pacers center Myles Turner gathers with schoolchildren in Tanzania.

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“Once the dust settled a little bit, you start looking around, for me it was like, ‘Damn, I’m home.’ That was the first instinctual feeling. I felt immediately connected to where I was.”

It was my first trip to Africa. So, when we first got there to Kilimanjaro, Tanzania, I was overwhelmed with emotion. I didn’t really know what to think. It was like, OK, obviously it was nearly a 20-hour-flight. So, the first thing in your mind is, ‘We’re finally here.’ But then once the dust settled a little bit, you start looking around, for me it was like, ‘Damn, I’m home.’ That was the first instinctual feeling. I felt immediately connected to where I was. And me personally, I meditate a lot. I’m a meditative person. I go into some states. Whenever you experience that energy and a continent like Africa, especially where your ancestors [lived], it just hits you a little different.

We landed on a dirt tarmac. Then there were animals on the runway too. There was wildebeest and there was a couple, one of those really fast gazelles on the landing strip, too.

I thought about making this trip to Tanzania about two years ago. [new Boston Celtics guard] Malcolm Brogdon, when he was first acquired by the Pacers, we got really close, really from the jump. He’s a point guard; we established that relationship, but then outside of basketball, we just became friends. He had to tell me about his endeavors making water wells in Africa. He was always telling me, ‘Bro, you got to make a trip with me. You got to come.’ For whatever reason, I just could never come. This offseason was a perfect opportunity. I was able to get out there and obviously experience it for everything [it is]. So, Malcolm really got me started with everything. He wasn’t able to make it this year because of the trade, and he had to go to Boston to do his physical. But he definitely obviously wanted to be there.

The first thing about it that piqued my interest was obviously just going to Africa in general. Being an African American, born in America, we’re very ignorant to what goes on in the Eastern world. They [Americans] take Africa as a very poor and poverty-ridden continent, starving children, and it’s a terrible place to be. But there’s actually so much beauty to it. Then, obviously working with the kids with the basketball, that’s something that’s dear to my heart. Being an NBA player in Africa, the kids will remember it the rest of their life. These are people they see on TV or hear about me on a video game. They’ve seen me in person. It has a lasting impact. And also going into the villages and providing clean water, that was a huge thing for me as well. I heard about stuff that goes on here in Flint, Michigan, and the fact that an entire country has to go through something like that, that obviously piqued my interest as well.

I didn’t look up what Tanzania was like on Google. I didn’t look up what Africa was like. I didn’t really even ask for people’s opinions. I just wanted to go into it superclearheaded. For me personally, with all this, the wildness that goes on with the season and offseason trade talk, I wanted to put all that behind me. Get off social media for a bit. Turn my phone off and not talk to anybody in the Western world. I was able just to be completely in the present and completely in the moment. And that was the most rewarding part for me.

This is my fifth offseason with trade rumors going on. ‘He’s going to land here; he’s going to do this. He going to do that.’ I am finally numb to it, in a sense. So that’s another thing that I was proud of myself for as well. I was able to immerse myself in the experience of Africa as opposed to my own personal life or my own selfish reasons.

My mentality was already just up and down with the dealing with the [foot] injury. Basically, that took me out for nearly half of last season. So, I was just yearning and looking for somewhere else to find some peace. And I feel like this trip was the perfect thing for it. I wasn’t necessarily using it for that, but that’s what it turned into. I’m very happy that I went, and I plan on going next couple of offseasons, too. I want to continue to make this a hopefully annual thing.

Indiana Pacers center Myles Turner helps plant trees in Tanzania.

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I worked with Malcolm Brogdon’s Family Foundation and Hoops for Humanity. Those are his two foundations and whatnot that he’s active with. And I also worked with African Development Promise, or ADP. And they have programs in Rwanda, Uganda. Basically, I personally donated a whole bunch of PPE [personal protective equipment] supplies and about 250,000 masks because of the resurgence of COVID that’s going on, not just here, but worldwide. I also donated 25 electroacupuncture devices. It’s pretty interesting. They manage pain for so many people. And it goes through your ears and there’s these nerves located in your ear and it’s really good for pain relief.

We went to three schools and visited some children. And at two of the schools, that’s where we built water wells. The water wells worked through solar panels. So, instead of having to pump the water, the water is just there. You just flip the switch, and the water comes on. It’s clean water and they don’t have to rely on the government for the water anymore. And all three of these schools had 1,200-plus kids. So being able to do that was one of the most fulfilling parts. I was able to play basketball with some of the kids there and just feel their energy.

I was also planting and digging at one of the schools. That was the inaugural turning on of the water well that we had just built. We were using the water from the water wells to make plants to commemorate us being there. If I were to go there a year from now, the plant that I planted would be a tree. A shade tree is what they called it.

“This is my fifth offseason with trade rumors going on. ‘He’s going to land here; he’s going to do this. He going to do that.’ I am finally numb to it, in a sense. So that’s another thing that I was proud of myself for as well. I was able to immerse myself in the experience of Africa as opposed to my own personal life or my own selfish reasons.”

— Myles Turner

As opposed to a family having to walk or someone in the family being designated to walk two miles to go to a water well in the middle of the city, or in the middle of where they’re at and bring it home to their entire family, they’re just able to just do it there. They were able to wash their face and sit there and actually cook food. They cook their food outside in a big melting pot. But using clean water to actually cook their food was one thing that was big for them. You can obviously boil dirty water, but it doesn’t have the same effect as clean water would have.

I’ve never really been around that many Black people before and where we’re the majority. You go to Atlanta, you go to D.C., you go to different places, but to actually be there and we were the majority was incredible to see with my own two eyes. All the problems that I feel like I had here in America suddenly just were gone, comparatively speaking.

Then we held a couple basketball clinics with the Junior NBA and that was a lot of fun. We had about 200 kids there. Had a camp, a half-a-day camp. We were outside, got to play, do some drills. We went to five different cities in Tanzania, and we were able to do two safaris. That was really cool. Able to see any type of animal you could think of. Lions, elephants, rhinoceros, just go down the list. Every big animal I was able to see. Then we stayed at this retreat in this mountain called Ngorongoro. And that’s where I found a lot of my peace.

We were basically in a garden. I woke up every morning at 4 or 5 o’clock [the] whole time I was there. I was able to meditate. I was able to just reconnect with my spiritual side, especially being that Africa is where our ancestors are from. Losing myself in that moment was big. Then we also were able to explore some of the cultural heritage museums. And that was actually really, really amazing to see in person. You hear about slavery and how colonizers came through. But it was so much deeper than that. I didn’t realize how much the colonizers had an influence on the entire, whole makeup of Tanzania itself. There were Indian immigrants, there were Asian immigrants. There were a lot of immigrants that came over and Tanzania was a melting pot at one point. I learned a lot about the history of Tanzania.

Indiana Pacers center Myles Turner (center) throws a jump ball at a Junior NBA camp in Tanzania.

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They have everything we have. The Pepsi, the KFCs, anything like that. And they have their local celebrities that were putting on. There’s an artist over there named Diamond [Platnumz]. And he is an Afrobeats artist, similar to a Burna Boy, who we listen to in America. Diamond [Platnumz] is from Tanzania. He’s literally on every corner. So obviously, doing my due diligence, I had to look him up, and bro actually got some hits, man. I’m going to plug him, bro. Diamond [Platnumz]. Look him up.

I was interested to learn though that as much as we have their wealth over there, we don’t own anything. And that’s what the thing is here in America as well. So, I was interested to see that it’s still our land, but we didn’t own anything. That’s one thing that struck me a little bit. It rubbed me the wrong way.

Even the roughest of neighborhoods in America have more basketballwise than what the nicer neighborhoods in Tanzania have. The infrastructure and resources and stuff like that, that they don’t have. Even their outdoor courts are bricks as opposed to the courts that we have in America on cement. One thing that really stuck with me, kids, adults, teenage, anything, they only know what they know.

A lot of people in the smaller cities we went to don’t really have TVs, don’t really get on social media or don’t really immerse themselves on that side of the stuff that we do here in America. What they have is what they have. They don’t know that there is necessarily more. They don’t know that they’re supposed to have a better court. They don’t know that they’re supposed to have better equipment. They’re so genuinely happy with what they have. That’s one of the things that really struck me and stuck with me. They may not have much, but to them it was enough.

I feel like when I went to the more major cities, a lot more people recognized me. But in the smaller cities, I was just this tall American. They probably assumed that I played basketball, but a lot of people didn’t really speak a lot of English. Swahili is their native language. I picked up on a couple sayings, but for the most part, I couldn’t really recognize what they’re saying. A lot of the kids were scared of me because I’m 7 feet tall.

One of the kids who was really young kid said, ‘I’m really happy you’re here.’ And he only had to be 7, 8 years old. So that was a big one for me. Just my presence here is enough for these kids. I don’t have to say anything or do anything. So much as a smile can make their entire year. And then one of the coaches came up to me and said, ‘Hey, man, I just really love your energy and your enthusiasm for these kids. We’re not used to that. We’ve had players here in the past or we’ve had people come here in the past and they lollygag around or just take a picture here and there.’ I was able to fully immerse myself in the experience, and it didn’t go unnoticed.

Indiana Pacers center Myles Turner (bottom center) takes a selfie with Junior NBA campers in Tanzania.

Myles Turner

“Every African American should have the opportunity to go over there, back to their motherland. It’s where we’re originally from. But saying that I was there and seeing everything with my two eyes was amazing.”

Every African American should have the opportunity to go over there, back to their motherland. It’s where we’re originally from. But saying that I was there and seeing everything with my two eyes was amazing.

Faith over fear is the best thing I would say to any African American considering traveling to Africa for the first time. I feel like we all have a connection to the motherland itself. Not just African Americans. Everybody in general. That’s where the genesis of all this started, but especially African Americans. You have to be able to explore your own lineage. And you have to do it within your own time. If you’re not ready to go to Africa, don’t go. But you need to experience it in your lifetime. That is the best way I could put it.

I’ve definitely got to do South Africa. They spoke very highly of that. I’m going to do Ghana as well. Then I want to do Nigeria just because, especially here in Texas, we have a lot of Nigerians and whatnot. They speak very highly of their motherland country. So, I would definitely go back to Africa, man. Plenty of places I need to be.

The way I’m perceiving everything now, my outlook is I’m in great shape right now. I’ve worked my way back for my injuries. And just carry myself as a professional as I always have. Whether that’s in [Pacers] training camp or whether that’s a training camp somewhere else, I’m going to go and be myself. And that’s all anybody, that’s all I can expect for myself. It’s definitely a proving season for me. Just proving it to myself, what I’m capable of. Playing a five position, something that’s obviously very important to me. Something that I’m looking forward to doing this year. My mentality is solid. I’m good to go and everything’s tight in my corner.

I have two phones. I turned off my secondary phone when I went to Tanzania, turned that one off. Only 10 people have my main number. So that’s what I had on me. I posted some pictures here and there while I was out there on my social. I had my manager posting pictures for me on my social platforms and whatnot. But other than that, I was married to myself.

The biggest thing for me was my own personal journey there. Spiritually, I grew a lot. I’ve been on my own journey for quite some time now. But being able to be there and experiencing the inner peace that I had, I’ve never been at that much peace in my entire life just in one setting. As far as the people, [what] they taught me was just the fact that life isn’t that bad. I never thought my life was bad in the first place, but the First World problems that I deal with on a daily basis, like what someone might think of me or how I have to go about my business or what I put in my body at 6 a.m., those are my problems.

It might be big problems to somebody, else but seeing the problems that they had there and how they handled it and how they were just living, going amongst their merry way or stuff that seemed abnormal to me that was just normal to them — the way they have to carry themselves and roll through with it — that struck me the most. It was like, ‘Yo, your problems are not that deep, Myles, whatsoever.’

Marc J. Spears is the senior NBA writer for Andscape. He used to be able to dunk on you, but he hasn’t been able to in years and his knees still hurt.