His knees shaking, Victor Luis Garcia held his breath as he watched the NBA All-Star Game on Sunday as Team LeBron fought for a win against Team Giannis at the United Center.
As Chicago native Anthony Davis sank a free-throw, giving LeBron James’ squad the victory, Garcia and 200 other students, volunteers and mentors for Chicago Scholars erupted in cheers from the stands.
The group rushed onto the court — the win by James and his teammates meant a $400,000 donation to the nonprofit.
“The moment we saw [the score] change to 157, it was a weird moment where time kind of stopped. It was a little unbelievable,” said Garcia, a senior at the Chicago High School for the Arts. “It was a moment we were all sharing and all thrilled to just be there.”
To Jeffery Beckham Jr., vice president of partnerships at Chicago Scholars, “it was like we hit the lottery. Our kids will forever be fans of what [the players] do, on and off the court, because this is bigger than basketball.”
Founded in 1997, the nonprofit provides resources, information and programming to help Chicago’s students get into, through and out of college. The organization is made up of 200 mentors, 1,000 volunteers and more than 4,000 students, known as scholars.
Earlier this month, James announced that Chicago Scholars was the charity his team would be playing for during the All-Star Game.
“I had to step back and really think about what I had heard,” Garcia said, recalling the moment that James choose Chicago Scholars as his charity. “This well-known, established person sees me, sees my peers and sees the program we’re a part of.”
According to Beckham, the $400,000 won from the game will expand the group’s career leadership-development work, which helps those who are already in college make connections in the working world. Aspects of program include finding internships, preparing for job interviews and planning for opportunities after graduation.
“We’re prepping Chicago’s leaders of tomorrow to be able to walk into jobs, excel, become the leaders of the city that we need them to be,” Beckham said. “This money is going to go towards helping expand that work.”
Meanwhile, another Chicago charity that works with students, After School Matters, ended up with its own windfall: Team Giannis won the first quarter, earning the group a $100,000 donation. And on Monday, captain Giannis Antetokounmpo announced his team was providing another $100,000 to the group “to support your great work.”