Arizona Basketball

Putt-ing Kids First event this weekend in Tucson another example of Joseph Blair’s diligent community service

When I covered the Arizona basketball team in the 1990’s for the Arizona Daily Star, Joseph Blair was the most imposing figure I came across.

Former Arizona basketball player Joseph Blair is active in Tucson community development

Former Arizona basketball player Joseph Blair is active in Tucson community development

At 6-feet-10 and 265 inches, he towered over most. He claimed his territory in the lane and banged his sizable body to keep it. He was such a competitive and fierce basketball player that one time he got thrown out of a pro game in Russia for fighting in a brawl that included many ejections and relegated the game to a three-on-three affair at the end.

Now 38, Blair physically looks like he can still muscle his way for a rebound or post up his defender on the blocks. Four years removed from his career overseas, Blair’s diligent work has changed from the hardwood to helping those suffering through hard knocks.

Based on all the charity work Blair has performed in Tucson over the last three years, his name should be on the ballot for city mayor.

Blair first organized the Arizona Basketball Alumni Foundation that performed various charity functions before ceasing operations last April. He is now the executive director of the Blair Charity Group. Its mission as stated at its Web site — BlairCharityGroup.org: Create and support programs that address the priorities of the Southern Arizona community, while still helping to strengthen the non-profit sector through collaboration and consultation.

Blair’s work with the development of the Arizona Basketball Academy earned him the honor of Joseph Blair Day every June 23 presented by former Tucson mayor Bob Walkup in 2010. The Arizona Basketball Academy is a pro bono week-long camp established in 2000 to give boys and girls in the Tucson community a chance to work with professional and college basketball players.

Blair’s relationship with the Arizona basketball program and his friendships with former Wildcats enable him to draw big names to these camps that are free of charge and have served more than 1,000 children in Tucson. These youngsters are annually provided the opportunity to grow and flourish in their personal lives under this setting whereas otherwise no doors would be open for them.

This venture by Blair and other community activists is made possible through corporate and individual sponsorship.

PuttingKidsFirst

The Blair Charity Group is involved in a fund-raising event for the Arizona Basketball Academy this Saturday at Golf-N-Stuff (6503 E. Tanque Verde Road). The First Annual “Putt-ing Kids First” Mini Golf Tournament & Family Fun Night is scheduled from 6-10 p.m. (Registration begins at 4:30 p.m. for golfers).

Each foursome of players will play 36 holes of miniature golf with different food and drink opportunities on the course. The top finishers will receive awards and prizes. All of the attractions of the venue will also be open to the attendees at no additional charge, including the use of the go-carts, bumper boats, laser tag, batting cages, and all of the video games.

More than 40 local sponsors are assisting Blair and his charity group with this event. At least 17 food vendors will be placed at various spots throughout the putting course.

This showing of support for Blair is another example of how he has stoked the flame of Tucsonans for helping those less fortunate in the community. The Blair Charity Group also successfully organized the 25th Annual Lute Olson Celebrity Auction and Golf Tournament last May. That golf tournament benefits the University of Arizona Arthritis Center.

Growing up with my father, Hector A. Morales Jr., a long-time community activist in Tucson, it is exhilarating to see how much Blair’s work is impacting the community. Blair’s work is never-ending. Trying to bring a better life to those less fortunate is an ongoing process.

An interesting aspect of Blair’s community involvement is that he is not from Tucson. He is a Houston native. His ties to Tucson and Arizona started when he played with the Wildcats from 1992-96.

The Arizona Basketball Academy has provided Tucson youths free basketball camps taught by former UA basketball players and others, who volunteer their time (Blair Charity Group photo)

The Arizona Basketball Academy has provided Tucson youths free basketball camps taught by former UA basketball players and others, who volunteer their time (Blair Charity Group photo)

His experience with the UA, its faculty, students and fans, sparked his involvement in the community. He has returned to Tucson after a 13-year pro career overseas — including two stints with the Harlem Globetrotters — mostly volunteering his time to make the community a better place to live.

Blair learned about giving with a sacrifice from his mother Judith Blair, who donated a kidney in 2001 to save the life of Dr. Michael Burgoon, a UA professor. Judith had only a casual acquaintance with Burgoon, a communications professor who served as an academic counselor to UA recruits.

Judith Blair learned of Burgoon’s deteriorating health while talking to his wife at halftime of a UA basketball game. Judith offered a kidney on the spot.

“God had once restored something to me, and I thought it was only right to restore something to Michael,” Judith told former Tucson Citizen columnist Corky Simpson in 2002.

She was in the midst of competing in the 50-, 100- and 200-meter runs in the Senior Olympics. She continued to compete after the transplant. She left a lasting impression on her son.

The Southern Arizona community is fortunate Joseph Blair’s presence — bold and determined — is as strong today as it was during his basketball career.

Site publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner

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