Sixers Ben Simmons and Amir Johnson help unveil PAL center in Strawberry Mansion

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Sixers guard Ben Simmons and forward Amir Johnson warm-up with PAL participants after opening the new Strawberry Mansion PAL basketball court on Thursday.

Sixers managing partner Josh Harris was on hand for the unveiling of a new PAL (Police Athletic League) center in Strawberry Mansion on Thursday.

The center, a renovated building that occupies the gymnasium at the former LP Hill Elementary School, features a new basketball court with five baskets, will offer sports, a homework club, and mentoring for children of the Strawberry Mansion community.

Harris and his wife Marjorie, who in 2015 pledged $3.5 million to PAL over five years through the Harris Family Charitable Foundation, didn’t show up to the celebrations alone. They brought star power in Amir Johnson and Ben Simmons.

“All the kids want to meet the players and become like them, so they draw the kids in. Once the players are here the kids all want to come, then you can give them the spinach,” Harris said. “Once the kids are here you can teach them, keep them off the streets, and help them out.”

For Johnson, who the Sixers acquired in July, the opportunity to show the community he cares comes from a place of experience.

Growing up in Los Angeles, Johnson said he was constatnly surrounded by gang activity. In order to keep him away from the uglier side of life, his parents sent him to centers much like the one in Strawberry Mansion.

“In L.A., I was an inner city kid. My parents tried to take me away from that side of things and put me in camps and put me in the Boys and Girls Clubs,” Johnson said. “I was so focused on the extracurriculars and all of that, that it kept me off the streets. To have a place like this in the hood, it really helps the kids.”

Johnson said taking part in community programs as a professional athlete also helps to take him away from the stress of changing teams, offseason workouts, and much more.

“There’s a lot going on in the world right now, not just with me. This helps to keep things in perspective.”

After the ribbon cutting ceremony Simmons and Johnson took part in a basketball clinic with some of the kids who will attend the PAL center. Simmons said he doesn’t want his support to end here, he plans to come back to the center and continue helping.

“Now that I’m healthy I want to contribute a lot more to the city of Philadelphia. That’s what they deserve, and I’m looking forward to doing that,” Simmons said.

The PAL’s mission is to help the children of the community while fostering a relationship between the community and police officers that isn’t about law enforcement, but about encouragement and prevention.