Team Player: Devean George

The retired NBA Champ creates an innovative housing complex in North Minneapolis

devean george
Former NBA player Devean George. Photo by Jamey Guy.

After an 11-year career as a pro basketball player, which included winning three NBA championships with the Los Angeles Lakers and a stint with the Dallas Mavericks, Devean George has come home to north Minneapolis and a career as a real-estate developer. His projects include the Commons at Penn, a recently opened affordable-housing complex with a fresh vision for revitalizing a distressed area of the city. 

“I grew up at Newton Avenue and Golden Valley Road in north Minneapolis. I went to Broadway grade school and then Benilde-St. Margaret’s for high school. I was short all through high school until my junior year when I grew to 6’3”. When I was in college at Augsburg, I grew a couple more inches to get to 6’7”.” 

“In L.A., we had this star-studded team. Since I was the rookie and the youngest guy, I would always have to do our community engagement events—Read to Achieve, handing out Thanksgiving turkeys. All I was going to do otherwise was go to the beach or go shopping, and I found out I kind of liked it.”

“When I was playing in Dallas, after a game I saw a row of kids with chaperones, and they had holey t-shirts and shoes. I had a contract with Nike, so I got in touch and sent them some clothes. Then this guy named Reverend Johnny Flowers called me back and said, The kids want to thank you in person. Can you come over to the community center?

“It was a community in south Dallas called the Empowerment Center, where about $12,000 is high-end income. They had food, shelter, physical therapy for people who had been battered, a church—a one-stop shop. They had kids showing up every day to work on making rap albums. It didn’t matter if they had talent, it was getting them off the street. I started showing up, helping them with their homework.”

“I had owned buildings on this site in Minneapolis. There was an old nightclub here and my dad was the manager. When it got into trouble, I bought the building, thinking maybe I would create something like I’d seen in Dallas.”

“We built 47 units here, and it was 100 percent full three months after completion—we had 800 applicants. We have an after-school program where kids can come in between 2:30-7:30 p.m. They get snacks, activities, homework help, and they get fed dinner. We’re trying to give their mothers options and feed the kids healthy foods. Knowing that when they’re dropped off at the school bus they’re safe—that relieves some of the pressure on single parents. We targeted that time range because that’s when a lot of latchkey kids are left alone.”

“We’re not done. We’re going to do another building across the street. We’re talking about getting a job-training center in north Minneapolis, we have a co-op grocery coming in. We have an all African American leadership team behind this project to set an example of how we need to work together, and that there are many different ways to be successful. This building’s architect grew up here, we caught the bus together on this block. You don’t have to play basketball to be successful, but we need to work together.”

Digital Extra

Watch George’s NBA highlights

His impromptu interview with TMZ about the Commons

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Quinton Skinner is a writer and editor based in the Twin Cities. A former senior editor of Minnesota Monthly, he held the same post at Twin Cities METRO and 
has written for major national and local publications. He is the co-founder of Logosphere Storysmiths and author of several novels, including his latest, Odd One Out.