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The Daily Wildcat

 

    Jefferson’s gift likely to have wide impact

    Michael Schwartz
    Michael Schwartz

    When former Wildcat Richard Jefferson pledged to donate $3.5 million as the lead gift for a UA basketball and volleyball practice facility Friday, he set a standard for future professional alumni in giving back to their universities.

    Jefferson’s gift, which is believed to be the greatest sum ever given by a former student-athlete to his alma mater, came at a critical time in the building process for the facility. It is expected to open in September 2008 to accommodate the McKale Center space crunch when, beginning in November, the basketball and volleyball seasons run simultaneously.

    The donation surpasses similar gifts from the NBA’s Carmelo Anthony, who gave $3 million to Syracuse, and Steve Smith, who donated $2.5 million to Michigan State.

    Jefferson said he hopes other UA basketball alumni follow in his footsteps by giving back to the school that helped them make their millions in the first place.

    “”Luke Walton just signed a $30 million contract, I think he can at least spare $1 million,”” Jefferson said. “”I think $1 million is not too much to ask. Gilbert (Arenas) is going to sign for more than all of us combined, so after he opts out he’ll probably get $130 million. Gilbert really has no excuse, especially since he’s throwing $2 million birthday parties, so I think he can afford to give back just a little bit.””

    When you sign a six-year, $78 million extension, as Jefferson did in 2004 after starting with a rookie contract, you have the fiscal flexibility to make a contribution like his. Inspired, other players in Jefferson’s tax bracket might find more reason to do the same.

    Former Wildcat Jason Terry, who signed a six-year, $50 million extension with the Dallas Mavericks last summer, expects that to be the case.

    “”It’s big, it’s huge, it’s telling all of us to step up, but all of us have done something in our own certain way, just some have more than others, and so they’re able to do so,”” Terry said. “”It’s a great job that Richard’s done by stepping up.””

    Arenas, whose next contract will likely put him among the league’s highest-paid players, echoed Terry’s thoughts, saying that although he has not put his name on a gym like Jefferson, he has done his share of giving. Arenas said he plans on getting together with a company to build one million homes over 10 years, among other charitable endeavors.

    “”I’m trying to help out everybody,”” he said.

    UA athletic director Jim Livengood expects Jefferson’s gift to boost his department’s fundraising efforts beyond current NBA players in what he called a “”critical time”” to raise money for the practice facility, which is part of an approximately $20 million complex that includes renovations for the gymnastics building and diving well.

    Livengood said potential donors often ask what student-athlete alumni have done for the program beyond their exploits on the field before offering their own money, and now the UA fundraisers can respond by describing Jefferson’s generosity.

    “”It is really about moving us in the future as well,”” Livengood said. “”I’m sure it’s going to have a big impact not just on future student-athletes but also donors. It’s huge.””

    Most people, even NBA superstars, cannot afford to donate $100 million, as Nike founder Phil Knight just did to his alma mater Oregon in part to help build a new basketball arena.

    But these millionaires have ample cash and competitive spirit – seeing one of their own make a donation like Jefferson’s could make them want to one-up him, a reason Livengood expects the gift to have “”national implications.””

    “”We’re two competitors, we played on the same team,”” Arenas said of Jefferson. “”I’ll do something that he wants to top, and he does something, I have to top it.””

    Jefferson set the bar high with the generous sum he gave back to his alma mater. By doing so, he may push more of his fellow players to do the same.

    – Michael Schwartz is a journalism senior. He can be reached at sports@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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