Marquis Daniels is giving the gift of hope to those in need
Lessons learned are finally paying off
By Mike Wells
Marquis Daniels isn't who you think he is.
Mention his name to many Indiana Pacers fans, and it usually brings back bad memories of nightclubs, strip clubs and early-morning television footage.
Mention it to those who know him best, however, and they'll share stories of a softer side. A side he doesn't share often, a side that pushes him to use his influence and wealth to make it better for others.
That side of Daniels was seriously tested more than two years ago.
Daniels, then with the Dallas Mavericks, learned his newborn daughter, Syriah, had a trait of sickle cell anemia, which happens when a person inherits a sickle cell gene from one parent and a normal gene from the other.
"It was like, 'Oh, wow, why is this happening?' " Daniels said. "It scared me because I didn't know what was going on. She doesn't have it full, but when she gets older, she can't be with anyone that has another trait because (there is a chance their baby will have it) if they have a child."
People who have sickle cell trait usually live a regular life. Daniels said Syriah, 2, hasn't had any problems. Syriah's uncle, however, has the more serious disease, sickle cell anemia.
"I know if you have full sickle cell you can have a bad crisis," Daniels said. "Luckily she only has a trait."
Syriah's diagnosis prompted Daniels to include sickle cell donations as part of his "Q6 Foundation."
Daniels' image is still iffy in Indianapolis after being at the scene of an ugly off-the-court incident in February 2007, but few doubt his character in his hometown of Orlando.
He was tough enough to make it out of one of Orlando's most distressed areas and then survive not being drafted. He was kind enough to give back once payday arrived.
The Pacers shooting guard provides funds for underprivileged children and sponsors three AAU basketball teams. His only rules: maintain good grades and stay out of trouble.
He knows how important academics and structure are.
His father wasn't part of his everyday life, but the basketball team was until grades almost took it away. His career at Auburn was delayed while the NCAA determined his eligibility.
Once approved, he graduated with a sociology degree. In 31/2 years.
Along the way, he spoke to school children in Alabama about the importance of education.
While recruiting Daniels, an Auburn assistant asked him about his goals.
"He wanted to get his mother out of her situation and do better things for his family," Eugene Harris told the Syracuse Post-Standard. "He said, 'coach if I can't do it in the NBA, then I'm going to do it with my degree.' "
Looking out for others. That's what he does. After a college teammate's mother died, Daniels made arrangements for the team to attend her funeral. But those are just some of the many reasons his head coach at Auburn, Cliff Ellis, once described Daniels as "a hero."
"I've got a lot of great stories, but his is right at the top," Ellis told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "What Marquis Daniels has done as a person is one of the more phenomenal stories I've experienced."
Daniels shrugs it off. He prefers the shadows to the spotlight, and insists his charity work is his way of giving back.
"I do a lot of stuff that I don't tell people about because I'm not doing it for the attention," he said. "I'm doing it for the people. People are going to think what they want to think about me, but I could care less."
Last month, Daniels helped provide Thanksgiving meals to 25 sickle cell families at the Martin Center in Indianapolis.
He teamed with the organization "Feed The Children" to give 400 families food and personal care items for Christmas at the Martin Center earlier this week. A viral infection kept Daniels from attending the event, but his efforts didn't go unnoticed.
"We've had input from professional athletes before, but not as personal where the individual comes out, meets the people and clients and has personal interaction with them," Martin Center executive director Susie Davie said. "That to me means a lot. I've been here 15 years and this is the first time in my knowledge that we've had someone of Marquis' status to do that.
"We're just so appreciative of someone like Marquis who has come to our city and filled a need to an organization such as this."
Daniels hosted two families at Tuesday's game against New Jersey. Each family received tickets and Christmas gifts such as jackets and clothes.
While Daniels prefers more of a hip-hop look over the corporate business suit, his foundation is teaching life lessons.
"We had to kick off some great players because they didn't have the grades," said James Turner, coach of Daniels' 17-year-old team.
"His main focus is to get them in college, and you can't get in college without good grades. We're not allowed to just say this kid has good grades; Marquis wants to see the actual report card."
Turner said five players earned mid-major Division I basketball scholarships last year and the team's GPA was near 3.0.
"I told them as long as they do right in school and listen to their parents, I'll make sure they get where they need to get to," Daniels said. "They'll play in all the good tournaments and be seen. It's good when those players are able to get scholarships. I'm very approachable and I like to help out when I can."