For several months when Kris Dunn was in fourth grade, he was left to fend for himself with his older brother, John, selling shoes and competing in card and basketball games to make money. Their mother, Pia, had left the family—she passed away in 2013—and their father, John Sr., was not around until he reconnected with them around that time.
Now, having the NBA platform to tell his story of survival and success, Dunn has launched a partnership with the YouthLink: From Homeless to Hopeful organization. It’s been serving homeless 16- to 23-year-olds in Minneapolis for more than 40 years. Last year alone, more than 2,200 youth accessed YouthLink.
This past week, after driving through his first snowstorm as a member of the Timberwolves, Dunn came by the center and chatted with a small group of kids, played spades with them and distributed adidas jackets. Afterwards, he caught up with the NBPA about the cause close to his heart, spending holiday time with his family and insights into his rookie season.
NBPA: What was meaningful about your experience with the kids at the event?
Kris Dunn: Today was my first time getting to meet the kids. They’re good kids. They’re tough kids—the situation that they’re going through, the fact that they still have faith, and they’re still smiling and interacting with people and engaging with others. It shows a good sign that they still have faith. And today, I was here just to show support, show love, help them with that, because I understand their situation.
NBPA: When you talk to the kids, what’s important for you to share with them about your journey to the NBA?
KD: I think it’s important to make the kids feel comfortable, make them feel like they’re someone that they can talk to. And the only way you can do that is by sharing your story. Kids won’t relate to other people who haven’t been in their situation. I have, so it makes it a lot easier for them to engage.
NBPA: What’s on their mind with the issues they’re facing, and how do you help them?
KD: The main part about what’s on their mind is will it ever get better? Because that’s what was on my mind when I was at a young age, going through my tough times. I just stressed to them, “Believe in God and keep your faith and keep being a good person. And staying positive, good things will come true. God’s not going to give someone bad things their whole life. It doesn’t work like that. If you stay positive, keep doing the right things and good things will happen.”
And I just tried to hear each and everybody’s stories. A kid told me that he lost his mother, and so did I [in Dec. 2013, when she was 50 years old]. I could definitely relate to that and understand his pain, because you don’t get that same love that you want to. When I lost my mom, it was hard on me, so I understand and I just tried to tell him, “Just keep fighting. It’s OK to be upset. It’s OK to cry and go through the emotional pains, but at the same time, just give it time and ease out. But just don’t ever forget your mom. Keep her in your heart. Keep the memories going.”
NBPA: How do you keep the spirit of your mom alive?
KD: I keep my mom in my mind all the time because she was the most inspirational person I ever met. She was loving, caring. She did everything for me when I was little, and I really like to talk to her with my brother. We always bring back memories. We always laugh about the memories and the good times that we had. And I think that’s the best way to do it—just keep it going. When we celebrate Christmas and put out our tree, and Thanksgiving, we never forget about our mom.
NBPA: With the holidays coming up, what’s the annual tradition like in your family?
KD: The Christmas swap. I think that’s been funny—when you think you’re about to get a present that most likely you know that you’re going to get, and then you have to do a Christmas swap. When you see the faces on everybody, they’re kind of upset because they really want that other present, so you’ll do anything to get that present [laughs]. But the best thing now that I’m older—when I was young, all I thought about was the gifts—it’s good just to be around family and just be around some love.
NBPA: What’s your favorite present of all time?
KD: Xbox One. My dad gave me a number of clothes, so I was kind of upset. I went upstairs. I was mad. And, of course, he’s going to play a trick, talking about, “Come downstairs, come in the garage.” He realized I had a salty face on and he gave me the Xbox. I play that Xbox to this day.
NBPA: What are your top games?
KD: I play Call of Duty, NBA 2K and Watch Dogs.
NBPA: Who’s the toughest competitor on the Timberwolves in any of those games?
KD: They don’t put the hours that I put into it, so there’s no competition on that side [laughs].
NBPA: Turning to basketball, what have you learned so far in your rookie season about the day to day of the NBA?
KD: The NBA is a grind. There are so many games and they come at you fast. It’s a long season and you’re going to have your good times, you’re going to have your bad times. But the good ones are the ones where you’re resilient, the ones that you keep fighting. You can’t let the outside world get to you. When you have a good game, [fans and media] love you. When you have a bad game, they like to switch up. You’ve just got to stay focused and understand what your goal is, and how you can improve every day. I think the best thing is the reason why you’re [in the NBA], how did you get there, and that’s just your passion that you have for the game. So I think the best thing is just keep that passion and just keep improving.
NBPA: With January around the corner, what are your goals for the second half of the season?
KD: Stay healthy. I think that’s a big key, and just keep improving, keep learning the game. Once you learn the game, the game gets a lot slower and you become more active. I think you can impact the game a lot quicker, so I just try to learn the game and just do the little things right now. I don’t have to be a star, I don’t have to play outside my role—just do the little things that will help the team.