by Walter J. Lovett II
Let the doctors tell it, Sonny Weems would never be able to run, let alone carve out a career in the NBA. Weems was born with cleft feet. When this diagnosis was learned, doctors and family were certain the toddler would be unable to walk.
The West Memphis native has been defying the odds for years now. He’s played for multiple NBA teams, starred on winning teams in the EuroLeague. And the whole time, he’s focused on giving back to his hometown. He recently wrapped up “Weems Week,” his sixth annual community event in West Memphis.
“These kids need this,” Weems said. “There are a lot more things to do than just running around in the streets.”
Weems’ childhood was tumultuous. After enduring many painful years of growth and wearing corrective shoes, he was able to begin playing sports and living an active lifestyle. The budding athlete went on to become a state long jump and high jump champion in track and field at West Memphis High School.
After much deliberation and an outpouring of support from his family, Weems decided to make basketball his sport of choice. His height and natural dexterity with the ball helped to shape his game.
At West Memphis High School, Weems was named first team All-State as a senior. He led his team to the Arkansas 5A Championship before playing for two years at The University of Arkansas-Fort Smith.
Weems earned All-American status at UAFS and was ranked No. 1 in the nation by several national ranking services. He led the team to two National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) Eastern Conference Division titles.
The next stop was the University of Arkansas where he averaged 11.8 points per game for the SEC NCAA Division I powerhouse and led the team to two consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances.
Weems finished his senior year as the State Farm College Slam Dunk Champion at the NCAA Final Four. He was selected as the 39th pick in the 2008 NBA Draft by the Chicago Bulls.
Weems now is a ten-year pro. His NBA career includes the Denver Nuggets, Toronto Raptors, Phoenix Suns and the Philadelphia 76ers. In 2011, he moved to the EuroLeague, where he has played on Final Four teams and was named to the First Team EuroLeague Competition. Last season, he averaged 30-plus points per game in China, where he was among the Top 10 scorers.
Weems continues to actively lead off the court with his work in the community. In 2012, he created and developed Weems Week for the youth in his hometown of West Memphis. The goal of the annual week-long event is to inspire and motivate the next generation of thinkers, movers and doers.
This year, Weems Week was July 30-Aug. 3 and featured a basketball camp, a back-to-school supplies and backpack giveaway. Activities kicked off with a community cleanup effort at the Sonny Weems Basketball Park in West Memphis, a facility the City of West Memphis dedicated in Weems’ honor in 2015.
Next, Weems hosted a basketball camp at the Lehr Arena on the Academies of West Memphis campus, formerly known as West Memphis High School. The camp targeted seventh-grade male athletes. I was designed to foster creativity and greater motor skill function and provide daily life advice.
Weems Week concluded with a back-to-school backpack giveaway.
“This is my way to give back to the youth in my community,” Weems said. “Growing up in the inner city, I was not afforded the same opportunity as many other children at the time and so I desire to build something positive that can change the lives of children in the future.”
Weems plans to expand Weems Week to serve more students across the country.
“It’s not the gift that God gives someone that we should be in awe of,” Weems said. “Rather it is what a person does for his fellow man with the gift that is given.”
(Walter J. Lovett II is an author, podcaster and digital journalist from West Palm Beach, Fla. In 2009, he launched WITIN RADIO, a podcast about lifestyle, faith, film, food, sports and pop culture.)