Robert Pack and Percy Miller have been teammates before.
The two New Orleans natives played basketball together back in the 1980s with the Spartans, a local AAU team.
They went their separate ways.
Pack went on to spending 13 years in the NBA and now is an assistant coach with the Pelicans.
Miller — or Master P as most of you know him — went on to a successful career in the rap industry.
Now the two are joining forces again.
No, Miller isn’t joining the Pelicans staff as an assistant.
And no, Pack isn’t about to collaborate on a Master P album.
The two have joined together to form Team H.O.P.E. , an acronym for “Helping Our Players Excel.”
The players are 20 at-risk males ages 12-15 chosen from local schools that selected the participants.
But instead of Pack and Master P coaching this team about the game of basketball, they’ll instead focus on the game of life.
“We identify with them,” Pack said. “The tough times, the bumpy roads, we went through them. It wasn’t easy. But we made it and we want to show them there is an opportunity for them as well.”
It’s why Pack took the time Friday right before the Pelicans game against the Portland Trailblazers to talk to the kids. It was the second day of Team H.O.P.E., which launched with a Thursday night dinner at Oceania Grill.
Pack is hoping that the same success he had at Lawless High and that Miller had while attending Booker T. Washington and Warren Easton spreads to the members of Team H.O.P.E.
“We know some of these kids have that drive and that same competitive spirit and want-to, and we want to give them a platform, opportunities and energies to lead them to that success,” Pack said. “P and I both came up in New Orleans, and we had to grind through this city to get the opportunities that we got, and we took advantage of them.”
Pack and Miller say they didn’t have a program like Team H.O.P.E. when they were growing up in New Orleans. So they felt they should start something that will expose the kids to things they normally wouldn’t get a chance to see. The youth attended the Pelicans shoot-around Friday morning and the game that night. They got a chance to listen to Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry give them some advice.
“Don’t let anyone tell you what you can’t do,” Gentry told them. “If someone is working 12 hours, you have to work 16. You have to do what it takes. … The chances of being an NBA player aren’t great. Be the best doctor you can be. Be the best construction worker you can be.”
There were plenty of lessons to go around.
Miller echoed similar sentiments when he addressed the youth during Friday’s seminar.
“Don’t be afraid to chase your dreams and goals,” Miller said. “It’s not about where you’re at, it’s about where you’re going to go. Don’t be afraid to say no to negative things. That’s why we’re here right now. We weren’t afraid. We had a lot of people who we thought were on our team who are probably dead or in prison. But we decided to do the right thing. Don’t be afraid to do the right thing.”
Jalen Warren, an eighth-grader, said the program has already been beneficial. Warren, 13, attends Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Charter School for Science and Technology in the Lower 9th Ward.
“I’ve already learned that there are many ways to get successful.” Warren said. “This is a big step for all of us.”
The program is ongoing. Pack and Miller will monitor the youth throughout their high school years. Eventually, Miller said, they would like to have a building for the kids. The program will have frequent activities for the youth, exposing them to different professions to help them reach whatever dreams they may have.
“This means everything to us because we come from here,” Miller said. “Everybody told us we couldn’t make it, and we excelled.”
Now they are hoping the same for the 20 youth who remind them so much of themselves. Pack and Miller were once where they were, growing up in a city in which many youth don’t make it to the age of 25. They hope the program, like its name, gives the kids hope, while at the same time broadening their horizons.
“We got a chance to see the world,” Pack said. “That’s what we want for you guys.”