The Real Meaning of Hero

February 1, 2012

By Arnie D. Fielkow

The term "Hero" is thrown around pretty loosely today and means different things to different people. Some may try to emulate the smooth moves of their favorite NBA player while others may aspire to follow in the footsteps of some of the great musicians of our time. Far too often, however, we elevate individuals to a status which is neither warranted nor possible to attain. Our youth, in particular, love to search out those they can copy and more often than not end up disappointed that their perceived "hero" was anything but.

In my own life, I too have had  many heroes-some whom I rooted for on the playing field and others who inspired me by the way they conducted their life, both publically and more importantly when the media spotlight was turned off.  Included in the mix were my favorite athletes, politicians and my own family members.

Yet, in my 55 years on this planet, two such individuals always rose to the top and, as exemplified by the way they lived life, were more than worthy of the term "hero". One was my dad Jack, who passed away earlier this year. My dad was an incredibly kind man who took great pride in my accomplishments and dedicated his entire life to his family's well-being. I dearly miss him each and every day!

The other is a man whom I had the great fortune to meet some 20 years ago and who is the subject of a front page story today in the NY Times sports section:

Dr. Richard Lapchick, affectionately known as Rich, has worn many hats over the years but throughout has been the nation's leading voice in combatting racial, gender and cultural discrimination within the sports world. Rich, in his various roles as activist and academician, has long advocated that sports is, and can be, the most effective vehicle to effectuate social change here in the US and around the globe. Whether it be fighting apartheid and anti-semitism or ensuring that professional and intercollegiate sports organizations have diverse workforces, one can always find Rich at the forefront demanding a better and fairer world for all. In my own experience, I have worked with Rich in many capacities, including helping provide opportunities for pro basketball players to return to school to receive their degrees and a rebuilding program to assist people in New Orleans get back on their feet in the aftermath of Katrina. Why was I not at all surprised that, despite total devastation throughout the area, somehow Rich Lapchick found his away to Louisiana just hours after Katrina to hand out blankets and supplies and to do whatever he (and his incredible family) could to comfort those who had lost everything.

I am very proud that my relationship continues with Rich to this day in my new role as CEO of the National Basketball Retired Players Association (NBRPA). Rich has graciously agreed to fund a number of programs of benefit to our members, including a life transition program which will emcompass degree attainment and job skills development. Additionally, masters program students at the University of Central Florida, a program Rich leads, will work with the NBRPA in event planning, membership enhancement and revenue generation.

Rich Lapchick and his life's work were appropriately recognized today by the NY Times. Rich's kindness, good heart and overall decency sets him apart and I am proud to call him my friend and mentor. Dr. Richard Lapchick-a real American hero!

(Arnie D. Fielkow is the CEO of the National Basketball Retired Players Association and the former President of the New Orleans City Council)