Young Rudy Gay, before he entered the NBA. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

Pro hoops player Rudy Gay hasn’t forgotten his Baltimore roots.

The newest member of the San Antonio Spurs sat down with ESPN’s Michael Wright to talk about his career crossroads as he heads into his 12th season with – at long last – a championship contender. During their Q&A, they touched on Gay’s charitable works here in his hometown of Baltimore, and what he sees as the best way to give back.

Asked by Wright, “didn’t you build some playgrounds out there for the city?” the forward responded in the affirmative.

“For me, it’s just you have to start from the beginning in Baltimore,” he said. “That’s anywhere. Anywhere there’s trouble, you’ve got to start from the beginning, and I saw that. The kids didn’t even have a safe place to play. I saw that and just thought I could at least do that for now. But there’s a lot more work to be done in that city.”

No kidding, Rudy. When Gay – a former star at Eastern Technical High School in Essex, and a prep standout at Archbishop Spalding in Severn – left Maryland for the University of Connecticut in 2004, things weren’t much better. Baltimore logged 276 homicides that year, and the drug trade and gang feuds were fueling street violence. While the killings dissipated from 2007 through 2011, they’ve since returned to a pace not seen since the late 1990s, and the city remains an epicenter for a spiraling drug abuse epidemic.

Gay said his playground-building initiative was designed to put kids to work.

“Actually, with building those jungle gyms in Baltimore, I had kids working to build them and they actually got salaries for that,” he said. “…Obviously, there’s a lot of drug dealing. There’s a lot of killing. There’s a lot of gangs in Baltimore. That all stems from a sense of hopelessness and a sense of struggling. If you can give kids an actual face and a positive way to make money, that keeps them off the streets.”

His thinking actually falls in line with the city’s YouthWorks initiative, which this year offered a record of roughly 8,300 paying jobs to 14-to-21-year-olds in the city.

Gay said his charity has sponsored a fundraising tournament here in past years, and is set to host another one here next month. “I had been searching and trying to do things around the city, and that’s just my way to raise money for different things,” he said.

He also touched on another idea that might appeal to local tech entrepreneur and gubernatorial candidate Alec Ross.

“You know how some people [want to take care of] the Boys & Girls Club or this or that? Well, that’s cool. That’s cool,” Gay said. “But personally, I’d like to see that this computer lab is getting done, or these kids now have [what they need].”

People magazine did a nice write-up of Gay’s playground initiative back in September 2015. Click here to read.

Ethan McLeod is a freelance reporter in Baltimore. He previously worked as an editor for the Baltimore Business Journal and Baltimore Fishbowl. His work has appeared in Bloomberg CityLab, Next City and...