IT’S HARD TO MISS CLINT CAPELA, with his shock of bleached hair and size 17 Nikes, as he fields alley-oops from Chris Paul and James Harden. The 24-year-old, six-foot-ten starting center for the Houston Rockets, who just signed a five-year, $90 million contract extension with the team, has one of the best field goal percentages in the NBA. And he’s even getting better all the time under his coach and mentor, Hakeem “The Dream” Olajuwon. But there’s a reason to keep tabs on Capela off the court, too.
In December he launched the CC15 Foundation, a Houston-based nonprofit with a mission of assisting low-income single parents and foster children. It’s a cause that hits close to home for Capela, who grew up with a single mom—and also in foster care—in Switzerland.
In 2000, when Capela was 6, his mother, a Congolese immigrant with no other family in Geneva, found herself struggling. Despite waking before dawn to work the line at multiple factories, she couldn’t afford daycare for her three sons, who shared a room in the family’s government-assisted apartment. She could barely afford the rent. On the verge of being homeless and wanting to help her children, she turned to a government program.
“There was nothing pleasant about it,” Capela tells us, remembering the day his mother brought him and his older brother Landry, 10, to Pierre Grise, a school and group home just outside the city. Tears streamed down her face as she left her boys there with their scant possessions, a photograph of herself among them.
“It was a good place if you wanted to get in touch with nature,” Capela says. The school had its own barn, farmland, and cows, but for a child separated from his mother, those things were far from mind. For three years Capela’s brother was his protector, guarding him from bullies, consoling him at night, and filling him in on all the best NBA players. But Capela cried all the time. He kissed his mother’s photograph every night before bed. “She was my number one everything,” he says. “It was really difficult.”
Read more about this foster success story here.