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He has been an active participant in the NBA’s Basketball Without Borders Program, a campaign aimed at improving education, health and fitness for young people around the world, and has worked in the aftermath of the earthquake with Medishare, a Miami-based nonprofit agency trying to improve health care in Haiti.
“Looking back, and you say, `Wow, God kind of gave you this opportunity, coming away from there and being in the league,’” he said. “I take pride in that. I feel like I’m very blessed, and I’ll continue to do the best I can and help.”
The country was hardly well off before the earthquake, and Dalembert has vivid memories of his own hard-scrabble upbringing.
Food was sparse and when someone cooked, the children shared their paltry portions without hesitation. Electricity was even scarcer, and controlled by the government, so when Dalembert cracked the books to study mathematics, history and Latin it was by candlelight most of the time.
“When they did give back electricity, one time a week, or maybe one time every two weeks,” he said, “Mom’s trying to iron as many clothes as she can for the days to come, because you don’t know the next time they are going to give it back to you.”
He moved to Canada with family members as a teenager, found his passion in basketball and earned a scholarship to play at Seton Hall. Dalembert became a shot-blocking specialist in college, and the Philadelphia 76ers took him in the first round of the 2001 draft.
He’s in his 10th NBA season now, a respected presence in the Rockets locker room after less than a month with the team. His fierce national pride emerges when he talks about Haiti, even as he opens up about the most painful memories.
“It’s in our blood. It’s in our blood to fight, and get things,” he said. “We basically learn to operate under stressful situations, and we keep on moving, we keep walking on the same path and we’re hoping for a better future. If it doesn’t happen, hey, life continues.”
But he also worries about the safety of family members who remain there, though much of his family has moved to Miami, and a younger brother is going to school in Philadelphia.
Dalembert tried to convince his father, a retired former government official, to leave. Emmanuel Dalembert refused.
“He said, `Son, in all the life you’re living, there’s one time you can see your country can be rebuilt,’” Samuel Dalembert said. “Some people never live to see that. He said, `I will never leave this country, and I will be there.’ He’s a patriotic guy.”
“It’s like when I go back home,” he said. “You see your youth, you’ve got that sense of pride in you, and you be like, `Wow, this is my country.’
“I always tell some of those kids, `Listen, there are countries out there who were not independent until this day,’” he said, “and the only thing you can say is, `This country is yours, and you’ve got to make the best of it.’”
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