In February 2003 I read a story about a residential basketball camp for kids with diabetes founded by former Portland Trail Blazers center, Chris Dudley, who developed Type 1 diabetes at age 16. Not letting his diabetes get in the way of pursing his dream to play professional basketball, Chris played in the NBA for years.
As a diabetes educator, I was sure that a diabetes basketball camp in Chicago could be successful, especially one that targeted inner-city kids. My goal was to help kids learn to manage their diabetes within the context of something meaningful and enjoyable. No formal education, no classroom activities, just teaching moments while they were playing ball.
One of my patients, Mrs. Joan Judelson, suggested that I share my idea with her husband, Robert, a member of the Board of Directors of the Chicago Bulls. He loved our proposal and showed it to Jerry Reinsdorf, who then assigned the camp idea to Larry Stewart, General Manager of The Chicago Bulls Training Academy. My idea of a scholarship camp, free of charge to all children who attended, was going to become a reality. During this time, Moses Cheeks, father of NBA coach Maurice Cheeks, became my patient. His desire to help others was as strong as Larry’s and mine. Despite battling cancer, he joined us to help plan this camp over the course of the following year.
The inaugural session took place on August 2–6, 2004, at Chicago’s De LaSalle Institute, with 21 girls and 46 boys attending the weeklong session, free of charge, courtesy of the Chicago Bulls. The camp was staffed with coaches from the Training Academy and local diabetes educators. Kids learned the fundamentals of basketball while managing their diabetes. When it comes to an overwhelming success–we scored!
I’m proud to state that since inception, more than 3,000 kids with either type 1 or 2 diabetes or prediabetes became Slam Dunk Kids. As a diabetes educator for the past 32 years, this camp combines my passion for teaching with my love for kids and basketball. We want kids, especially those without many resources, to have a timeout from the daily demands of this disease. Camp is a great time for everyone involved and the Slam Dunk Kids are an inspiration to all of us.