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Kermit Washington Talks About Bad-Boy Jocks and Why He Believes in Making a Difference

Not exactly the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass. But since 1995, when Washington founded Project Contact Africa, the Kenyan capital has been the focus of his considerable charitable activities. Funded largely with his own money, and staffed by American volunteers, the center now offers food services, medical outreach and schooling.

Current players, some with images in need of a touch-up, have been major supporters. None, he insists, mistakes a trip to Nairobi for a week in reputation training camp. It is the real deal.

Ron Artest, for example. Washington acknowledges that people think this L.A. Laker, his personal friend, is "crazy some of the time. But Ron not only went over to Africa, he paid for an operation for a kid. It was a very expensive operation. That kid would not have been able to have it if Ron had not paid for it."

That's more than pocketbook philanthropy, Washington says. "You don't go to places like this to impress people. You can die any second! Artest goes because he likes to give, not because of the press. You have to go with him, and the other ballplayers, to see how he sits with the kids. You can tell."

Washington also provides an assist to active players. Part of his job with the NBPA is running seminars on life issues such as health, drugs and retirement planning, which — who knew? — are mandatory. "There's a $25,000 fine if they don't come."

It's easy to imagine LeBron James flinging spitballs at the "old man" as he outlines the benefits of Roth IRAs. "Mostly they're respectful," Washington says.

But just in case you ever wondered if playing in the NBA is anything at all like real life, Washington cautions, "We know the ones who don't want to be there will be the ones who will be broke a few years after playing, if they don't pay attention: no shady investments; watch those 401(k)s."

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