GREENSBORO, N.C. (WGHP) — For Fred Whitfield, Southeast Guilford High School is part of where it all started.
“I love Southeast because Southeast was my foundation,” he said.
The president and vice chairman of the Charlotte Hornets NBA basketball organization credits the school and its teachers, coaches and administrators with helping him to become the man he is today.
“It provided me literally every opportunity that I’ve had in my life,” he said.
Whitfield played basketball for the Southeast Falcons. He was elected class president and went on to play basketball at Campbell University. After he graduated, he became a graduate assistant coach while earning his Master’s of Business Administration. Then it was on to law school where he set out to make his parents proud by giving back to his community.
“A lot of help from a lot of people,” said Whitfield. “It is certainly not because of me. I think it’s because a lot of people took interest in me.”
He became the ultimate businessman, working hard to create success in everything he touched. The Hornets franchise is growing, amounting to almost $270 million in 2022 despite not making it to the playoffs since 2016. He worked with Nike twice and helped to build the Jordan brand into the multi-billion dollar business it is today. The 23-11 NASCAR race team, the Greensboro Swarm and more all benefitted from his expertise. He’s won award after award, even being inducted into the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame. But through it all, he stays humble.
“I’ll tell you, Cindy, and I mean this, it’s not me'” he told FOX8’s Cindy Farmer. “I’m telling you. I get so much more credit than I deserve.”
His hometown and the teammates with whom he started playing basketball were with him every step of the way.
“Along the way, I thought about all those young guys I grew up with at Windsor Community Center, that were my teammates when I was eight years old, nine years old, 10 all the way to to 12 years old.”
He says they didn’t have the chances he did and some died before they were 25 years old. And while he couldn’t help them, he knew he could help the next generation, and hopefully generations after that.
Whitfield said, “What if they had people that were role models for them that they could look up to that could change their lives?”
That’s when Achievements Unlimited was born. Since its inception in 1985, the basketball school has served tens of thousands of students both in Greensboro and Charlotte.
According to Whitfield, it’s “a school that we bring to underserved kids that can’t afford to pay to go to any camp. We don’t just focus on fundamental basketball skills, although I think we probably teach them as well as anybody, our coaching staff. But we have always, from day one, had an academic component to help the students. We call them student-athletes. We help them understand how important education is if they want to even hope to get a college scholarship and move on. And then how important it is to stay drug-free.”
Thousands of lives have been touched, like Andrea Longworth. She went to camp in the ’90s and stopped by to say thank you when she heard Fred was in the school. He was surprised to learn she was a teacher and now giving back to others as well.
“You’re kidding me,” he said. “That blows me away. That’s exactly what I was talking about. Encourage these kids whether they are going to be doctors, lawyers or school teachers. That’s exactly why I have done my camp. Boys and girls. That’s it.”
Whitfield always takes the opportunity to deliver words of encouragement. Whether it is to students or student-athletes like the ones at Southeast Guilford High School.
He told them, “Keep up the great work. You can do anything you want to do in life. Trust me. If I can’t grow up and become a lawyer and run and own a basketball team, be a part owner in a race team in NASCAR team, you all can do it too. And, for me, it all started right here.”
The athlete in him is what fuels his fire to succeed.
“Every team I ever played on, we fought to win,” he said. “And so deep down within me, there’s that fire that, and everything I’m doing businesswise and even personally, I’m trying to win.”
Whitfield says surrounding yourself with a good team is important.
“I’ve always tried to do it myself with the help of my friends—Michael Jordan, Johnny Dawkins, David Henderson and Ralph Sampson—who helped me start my basketball school in 1985,” he said. “Never forget where you came from, and always give back.”
In reflection, Whitfield said, “Wow, it’s been an amazing ride.”