With the distinction of being one of three people to have won a championship at every level of basketball – high school, college, the NBA, and the Olympics – Quinn Buckner knows what it takes to succeed. He also captained college basketball’s last undefeated team, the 1975-76 Indiana Hoosiers. That experience and leadership is now being put to work bettering the lives of others.
Buckner has been the Vice President of Communications for Pacers’ Sports & Entertainment since 2004 and that role has allowed him to get involved with several charities throughout Indianapolis. He currently serves on the boards of the Center for Leadership Development, The Indiana Youth Institute, Pacers Foundation, YMCA, Community Health Network Foundation, and the First Tee of Indiana.
LiveBIG spoke with Buckner about his charity work.
What do you look for in a charity that you choose to get involved with?
I’m much more interested in inspiring education and youth – it’s not just youth education – it’s education and youth. But I would say the preponderance of my interests have to do with young people and trying to help them see that there is some hope, there’s a brighter day, and giving them a fair opportunity. So that’s where I really look to try to be supportive.
Why is it important to you to work with youth?
Having been one, and coming from a family who was very well educated – both parents graduated from college so everybody in my house has a college degree – I know what it has allowed me to do. You see so many young people struggling to get through high school and helping them see what they need to do in terms of getting an education and growing as people, and trying to inspire them to see that there’s an opportunity there, but they have to be prepared for their opportunity. That’s really the thing that they most need to focus on which means they have to get an education. Of course, you hope they find a passion and use that passion to drive them beyond anything they ever thought they could do.
How does your involvement differ between each of the charities you’re involved with?
They’re all volunteer positions and I don’t know if they differ in any real great sense. I think what they require is some engagement and just providing whatever resources that you have. Sometimes the resource can be financial. Sometimes it can be a personal link to someone and putting people together, and I tend to like to do a lot of that because I think it’s important that you use all the assets. If you put two people together and they come up with a great idea then I think it’s all worthwhile.
What has been the most rewarding part of the charity work for you?
Just watching smiles on people’s faces. And it’s not always kids, sometimes it’s adults watching their kids. I have children and grandchildren, so I can appreciate as a parent or grandparent watching my kids feel good. You do it for the kids and to see them get enjoyment out of it. It may take some people from a civic standpoint longer than others and you may see that joy in other ways. Maybe an adult who will all of the sudden go from non-reading to becoming an avid reader. Those are the things that just warm your heart.
Have you ever had an experience that sticks out that really highlights why you continue to do it?
There are a number of them. I do a lot of clinics. We do a free clinic here in Indiana and we try to get out to see young people who have never had a chance to really be coached in those clinics and I’ve participated in those. Actually, youth basketball as it is here with the Pacers is part of my responsibility, so seeing young people taking the sport of basketball and then using that as a metaphor for life has been what I’ve seen.
I’ve seen a number of people who were so grateful, as we are, to serve the community, but they’re grateful for the experience. And that gratefulness is part of what you really want to hopefully open up in people. To be grateful for the opportunity, but more importantly, to be able to take that opportunity and use it as a little bit of a prism for them to look through their life and say, ‘gosh, I can do that’.
What did you learn most from Bobby Knight?
Part of what I learned from Coach Knight was his giving spirit, and I don’t doubt that that has influenced me along with my family to give back. I think what I learned from Coach Knight at the time is the preparation for success, which he calls luck, when hard work meets opportunity, which I would agree with.
But mostly what I took away was the givingness that he has. He would come periodically off the road – we didn’t know this at the time – but he wouldn’t be on the bus and he’s gone somewhere in another direction to go see some elderly woman in the late 80s who’s an avid IU fan but never able to go an IU game. He would go and visit her because that’s who he was. That’s giving. That’s inspiring people. That’s giving them joy. That’s what I learned.
How do you encourage the average person to get involved in charity work?
Well, it would depend on the conversation with whom I talk to. It’s different for everybody, but you’ve got to find people who are willing to give themselves and understand that in this world you don’t live here alone. You live in this world where there are a number of human beings and you, more than likely, are blessed, and because of that blessing you owe it to give back. That’s how I view it.