Ten-year-old Sayed Miri stood before 200-plus students, teachers, local leaders, NBA representatives and others on Thursday morning, welcoming them all to Lincoln Elementary School.
The crowd had gathered for the dedication of a new NBA Cares Learn and Play Center, comprised of a newly renovated science, technology, engineering and math lab and gymnasium. The project was funded by NBA Cares, the league's global social responsibility program, in partnership with insurance company State Farm.
"This group is really lucky to get this chance for a new STEM lab and our new gym," Sayed said. "For me, PE (physical education) is my favorite subject to do during school. ... I look forward to spending the rest of my elementary school days in our new gym."
Sayed, a fifth grader from Afghanistan, is one of 450 kids at the elementary school in South Salt Lake, where students collectively speak over 24 languages besides English at home.
The press conference held in Lincoln Elementary's gym included a number of high-profile guests, including NBA deputy commissioner Mark Tatum, Washington Mystics guard Ariel Atkins, Utah Jazz co-owner Ashley Smith, and former NBA players Thurl Bailey, Carlos Boozer and Rickey Green.
Sports reporter and Utah native Holly Rowe introduced each speaker, adding during her own comments that the NBA has also partnered with the University of Utah's SPARC Environmental Justice Lab to provide kids with tools that limit their exposure to poor air quality.
"I know firsthand the commitment that the Utah Jazz have toward making us live in a positive community and impacting those that we live with," Rowe said.
Lincoln Elementary Principal Milton Collins thanked the NBA and its partners for the "generous upgrades" to the school, which was built in 1923, he said.
"The renovations mean so much," he said. "Now our kids are going to be exposed to a brand new gym floor where they can have so much fun. And then they're going to go right across the way to the STEM lab, where they can be exposed to all of the modern technology so we can catch up with all of those kids in other parts of the world."
Utah Jazz guard Collin Sexton added that he's passionate about helping youth because they're the world's future teachers, scientists, doctors and more.
An elementary school teacher once told him he'd never make it to the NBA, Sexton said, so he asked the Lincoln Elementary students to shout along with him, "I can do it!"
"I want you guys to say it each and every day, but I also want you to believe it," Sexton said. "Everything that you've dreamed about is going to happen if you dream big."
Sexton played basketball with students after the press conference, while NBA representatives coached other students through exercises. In the STEM lab, students showed off projects like Lego robotics they'd built and programmed themselves. The touch-screen board replacing a glitchy projector was particularly needed, Collins said in an interview, and the variety of new tech is helping students prepare for district and statewide STEM competitions.
Collins said he began discussing renovation possibilities with the NBA last April when he went to a Utah Jazz game as part of his nomination for Most Valuable Educator. Once the details came together, the renovations happened fairly quickly, with work starting in January, he said.
He said working with NBA Cares has been a "surreal" experience.
"I grew up poor. I was one of these kids," Collins said. "So I see through their lenses. That's why I'm so passionate about making them feel safe, making them feel welcome. ... This is (their) home away from home."