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The odds of your success are greater than you think

You are probably wondering what do I have in common with Hall of Fame Basketball players?

In college I worked part-time as a peer-counselor helping prepare Detroit high school students for college and careers post college. This was during the run of the Detroit's Bad Boys championship teams. The Piston's success had most of the boys dreaming of NBA careers instead of a non-sport professional career. I had an easier time convincing the girls of their academic potential than many of the boys. The boys that chose not to follow my advice to get an education believed that there were going to be the next Isaiah Thomas, Dominique Wilkins, Clyde Drexler or even Michael Jordan. There's no doubt some of them were talented enough to play in the NBA, but many were not facing the reality that the odds were against them. I devised a plan to drive home a reality for many of them. One day I stood in front of a classroom and I placed a twenty dollar bill on the table and promised to give it to anyone that could answer the following question:

Of every professional sport in the United States, how many professional athletes are Black men?

The students started throwing out numbers that they believed to be true.

"Ten thousand ," shouted one.

"25,000," shouted another.

"One million," still another said.

I accepted other guesses until everyone of the 30 students contributed to the effort. No one came close to the real answer.

I turned to the chalk board and wrote down the following ....1100.

According to a report by Sports Illustrated at the time, there were only 1100 Black men in all professional sports. The kids were shocked at the answer. Most admitted they were disillusioned by the fact that the media made the number look greater.

"Turn on the TV and see Black athletes in every sport, so it seems like there are way more than 1100," a female student said.

That's when I drove the point home.

"There are about 5000 colleges in the US with basketball teams. Let's say that they have 5 players that decide to go pro before they graduate. There are 28 teams ( there are 30 today ). That means that there will be 25,000 people competing for 28 positions. The odds are greater that they will become doctors, engineers, or lawyers before they land a job as a professional basketball player.

I learned early on that the odds did not favor that I'd become a Hall of Fame basketball player like those on both sides of my wife Wandra and I, but they did favor that I had a better chance of becoming an engineer...and I did. This story is 30 years old and I still share it with high school students today.

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