It’d be an understatement to say there’s been some turbulence in the Black community this summer. From Don Lemon’s rants on CNN to the Trayvon Martin verdict, a lot of activists and talking heads have had plenty to say about Black responsibility, community and ways to properly move forward from here. Meanwhile, this summer, as with every summer, a new crop of young men entered the NBA, but with those giant athlete contracts comes not only affluence but also influence. Fittingly, St. Louis-bred Ben McLemore, the No. 7 pick in the draft and newest member of the Sacramento Kings, is taking his newfound position to be a positive role model fo the youth.

Coming from the socioeconomic bottom, McLemore expertly used his talents and drive to ensure his own success and the success of his family, and his story is an inspiring one that speaks to the possibility of the American Dream for Black Americans. Earlier this week, XXL got the chance to sit down with the NCAA Champion at the 2013 Panini NBA Rookie Photoshoot, during which Ben spoke on the women in his life, the legacy of Trayvon Martin and allowing Chief Keef to influence your decisions.—Abrea Armstrong (@abreaknowsbest)

XXL: With your influence and newfound affluence, do you feel like you have a certain responsibility to teach people or to represent yourself in a certain way? 

Ben McLemore: My responsibility is just to my family. My mom, my three sisters, my brothers and nieces and nephew. That’s it. Those are the people that helped me to get to where I’m at now. That’s pretty much my responsibility of my whole career, is just to take care of them.

But I’ve also seen that you’re very involved with the community. Where does that come from?

My mom and my grandma. My grandma was just a big community person. My mom, she’s a strong lady. She took care of the community, cleaned it up. Even though it was messed up, it was taken care of. It just comes from her. After this I’m going back home to do a charity thing and give back for back-to-school. It’s all in the spirit. It’s just the type of person I am, the type of person my momma raised. I love to give back.

So as far as basketball, what kept you going throughout the years? There were a lot of factors that could've stopped you or derailed you, but what kept you motivated?

I just had the mindset to keep working. I knew I wanted to play college ball and I knew I wanted to go the NBA. I had good people around me, I had my mom, my sisters and brothers around me giving me advice. Telling me I need to keep working and keep pushing myself. And I had that mindset, too. Just keep going hard everyday. That work ethic. I had some thought about [giving up] like, “Do I really wanna do this?” But, like I said, I have a mom, [who is] a strong lady. So I just kept fighting. We’ve been fighting all our lives.


Would you say it was the women in your life who were the cornerstones of your hard work?  

I got uncles and stuff like that. I still talk to my Dad, but it’s not like my mom and my dad are together, but we still communicate. My mom, she’s the one. She was like my father figure, telling me to do this or that.

Let's backtrack and talk about community. You mentioned that the area that you grew up in was "messed up." How do you feel about Black people coming together now and the importance of community, especially after something like Trayvon? 

I think we should all come together and just go from there. Stop the violence, all that type of stuff. We just all have to come together. That’s the main thing.

How did you respond to the Trayvon Martin verdict?

I was just shocked like, “Wow, he beat that case.” Me and my mom were talking about how someone tried to rob a lady in her house and she fired two shots in the air and got like 20 years. Things are crazy in this world. Like I said, coming together and moving as one and figure it out. Because all this violence stuff is just not where it’s at.

How do you think music plays into that? Do you think modern music has affected us in such a way that we're more violent?

I wouldn’t say that. It’s us ourselves. Music should not have influence on us to go out and kill somebody. If I listen to Chief Keef, I’m not going out there to shoot somebody. This music industry does not affect us, it’s us. I can’t tell you to go out and shoot somebody right now. I can’t influence you. It’s yourself. Can’t nobody influence you. If I tell you this and you stick with it, then that’s you. I’m a role model to a lot of kids so I can tell a million kids, “You need to stay in school. You need to work, work, work to get to where you want to be.” Out of all of those kids, some of them are not going to listen. It’s just the way life is now. You can definitely influence them. Some kids might use that and take that advantage and others [might] not.

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