The Waterboy: How JaVale McGee is Changing Lives Through Life’s Basic Essential

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The Waterboy: How JaVale McGee is Changing Lives Through Life’s Basic Essential

JaVale McGee (right) and his Juglife business partner, Kez Reed, at one of their water education tours for students last summer in Los Angeles. (Photo courtesy of Juglife)JaVale McGee (right) and his Juglife business partner, Kez Reed, at one of their water education tours for students last summer in Los Angeles. (Photo courtesy of Juglife)

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Go through JaVale McGee’s Twitter account, and you’ll catch the colorful personality sharing daily musings, his music passions (he produces songs on the side) and comedic spins on life and basketball, including recently when he did improv at Chicago’s The Second City and an impromptu interview with the Warriors’ sideline reporter.

That’s not all. Among his entertaining posts are some even more unique ones: McGee’s retweets of fans showing pictures of their water jugs and bottles—all with the hashtag #Juglife. But it’s much more than just a social media trend and official trademark that he started five years ago. It’s become a global game-changer, inspiring tens of thousands of kids and adults to drink water, and implementing water wells in HIV-affected and illness-plagued youth communities in Uganda.

Beginning in March 2012, after McGee was traded from Washington to Denver, he read up on staying hydrated in the city’s high altitude to help him stay energized on the court. And he learned more about the importance of drinking water, inspiring him to start #Juglife to encourage others to do the same.

“It was really just from a health standpoint and researching myself of how much water really helps you in regular-day life, even if you’re not an athlete,” McGee told the NBPA. “And it definitely helps if you’re an athlete, so I was really focused on being hydrated and taking care of my body. That’s how I got into it.”

As McGee started to retweet fans who were following his #Juglife message, his longtime friend Kez Reed—their mothers are friends from their college days—had an idea for him in his line of work as an entrepreneur and business consultant: design and sell Juglife shirts, beanies and hoodies.

That led to the duo establishing Juglife as a non-profit organization in Jan. 2014—when McGee was still on the Nuggets—consisting initially of an apparel line that he fully designed, from the jug symbol to the fashion styles (10 percent of sales goes to the foundation); charity softball game involving NBA players (the first one happened that summer in Los Angeles); and social media challenge for people to drink a gallon of water per day. By doing so, “it will help every cell and organ function properly in the body, regulate one’s metabolism and reduce the risk of disease,” which is highlighted on Juglife’s website.

But still to this day, as one of life’s basic essentials—water makes up more than two-thirds of the human body weight—it continues to be a human drought, leading to health problems. More than 80 percent of Americans don’t drink enough water to remain properly hydrated on a daily basis. More than one billion people worldwide lack access to clean water. More than 2.5 billion people lack access to clean sanitation. And one out of three children in the U.S. are obese, a number that has tripled since 2000. All of those statistics were shared by Reed.

Having sugary drinks and no water even has educational downsides. According to Harvard’s nationwide study in 2015 called “Prevalence of Inadequate Hydration Among U.S. Children,” it was found that almost one in four kids don’t drink water during the course of their day. The sample included 4,134 participants, ages six to 19, from the CDC’s National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey from 2009 to 2012. “Keeping kids hydrated can help them with learning and to perform better in school,” pediatrician Dr. Anisha Patel, who works at Yale New Haven Hospital, said at the time. Furthermore, for younger children without a water intake, symptoms entail fussiness, infrequent urination, a dry mouth and lack of tears when crying.

With that attention desperately needed to water, McGee and Reed utilized their own funds and proceeds from the first charity softball game to launch water education tours in Aug. 2014. Since then, they’ve been to Denver, Seattle, Los Angeles and most recently the Bay Area. The visits feature fun and spirited hour-long assemblies in different schools, where both of them teach the students about water and a healthy lifestyle through interactive activities, visuals and prizes. And they’ve brought along their celebrity friends, including last summer’s crew of Matt Barnes, Nick Young and actor Lamorne Morris.

McGee with a student, who has a Juglife foam bottle, at one of his water education tours in Los Angeles last summer. (Photo courtesy of Juglife)

JaVale McGee with a student, who has a Juglife foam bottle, at one of his water education tours last summer in Los Angeles. (Photo courtesy of Juglife)

In less than three years, they’ve already reached more than 10,000 kids, and they’ll be hosting more tours this summer in the Bay Area and LA, where McGee resides in the offseason and plays in the popular Drew League. Additional financial support will come from proceeds through apparel sales and the third softball game this summer, which will be in the Bay Area for the first time.

“People don’t understand how important water is, especially kids in the hood,” McGee said. “I’m from the hood, so we didn’t drink water. We drank Kool-Aid. And the artificial drinks that we get from the 99 cent store that cost 50 cents are all sugar and high fructose syrup. It’s the leading cause of obesity, so water really helps. It helps with your skin, it clears up acne. If you drink a lot of water, it lowers your body weight. There’s a lot of stuff that water can help in health-wise.”

“The biggest misperception is not knowing how much water to drink, and the perception is drinking half of your body weight,” Reed added. “If you weigh 200 pounds, you’re supposed to drink 100 ounces of water per day. But that’s just the minimum requirement. That doesn’t take into play if it’s a hot day or if you’re an active person working out, or for people with certain diseases and they need to drink more water.”

In a world of dense sugary drink marketing, McGee and Reed—from their engaging #Juglife social media campaign to their water tours to their apparel (female swimsuit wear will debut this summer)—are uniquely bringing the wa-lah factor to water.

“We just want to make water cool, make water a good thing to drink, share a positive light, especially for a kid,” Reed said. “There’s not that many commercials and money behind just regular water.”

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McGee and Klay Thompson during Juglife’s charity softball game in LA in 2015. The event will be returning this summer, and for the first time in the Bay Area. (Photo courtesy of Juglife)

The proceeds don’t just impact students in the states. Across the ocean in Africa are kids’ lives changed forever.

After Juglife was founded, Reed’s uncle, Ray Sidney, a gospel singer who performs around the world, told him, “Uganda really needs water.” When Sidney had a concert there, he discovered that many young students were HIV-affected or weren’t attending school because of water-related illnesses. So in July 2015, with some of the foundation’s proceeds, Juglife built its first water well in Uganda, along with assistance from Hope 4 Kids International. Through their partnership, the organization covered the construction.

Since then, two more water wells have been installed, and their purpose is also for the parents to take home clean water when they pick up their kids from school. Looking ahead, a fourth water well is being discussed for this summer, and McGee and Reed want to expand to other areas in Africa and South America, which, according to them, have the highest populations of contaminated water.

“The most impactful thing that’s happened with Juglife is I have pictures of kids in Uganda standing by the water well with signs, ‘Thank you, JaVale McGee,’” he said. “We were supposed to go to Uganda [last summer], but I was trying to get on a team. I’m planning to go this summer [for 10 days].”

The kids in Uganda. (Photo courtesy of Juglife)

The kids next to one of the three current water wells in Uganda. (Photo courtesy of Juglife)

Beyond those projects, McGee and Reed are releasing reusable Juglife water bottles in the first week of April, which will be primarily sold at urban home stores in California. They’ll also be available for special purchase at the Oracle Arena. In addition, McGee donated clean water to his hometown of Flint, Mich., which has been devastated by high lead levels. And he’s thinking bigger. “I’m definitely talking to my people, trying to figure out a permanent solution,” he said.

That level of commitment to Juglife is what impresses his close friend the most.

“It was surprising to me at first,” Reed said. “Some athletes write a check and they don’t really want to put the time into charity work. And I saw how active and hands-on that he was. It’s really on his mind thinking about things and executing them. He definitely gets a lot out of it I see and he enjoys doing it, playing with the kids, shedding light and things like that for his foundation.”

And through McGee’s dedication, Juglife has picked up interest among his NBA peers. Jordan Clarkson, Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Kenneth Faried, Draymond Green, Andre Iguodala, Ty Lawson, Andre Roberson, John Wall and Nick Young have all supported the movement on social media. And they’ve also worn the apparel, notably Durant during a nationally televised ESPN interview in February before returning to Oklahoma City.

Kevin Durant wore a Juglife hat during the ESPN interview. (Photo courtesy of ESPN.com)

Kevin Durant wore a Juglife hat during a recent ESPN interview. (Photo courtesy of ESPN.com)

Overall, from expanding his Juglife efforts to the Bay Area to excelling on the court, McGee, a nine-year NBA veteran, is having a resurgence in Golden State. While playing his most games since the 2012-13 season, through a career of two trades and twice being waived, he’s averaging 5.7 points and 2.9 rebounds, while shooting 64.7 percent from the field, in only 9.3 minutes per game as the Warriors’ backup center.

But the biggest indicator of the 29-year-old’s influence is in the plus-minus: the team is a negative-9.7 when he’s on the bench, but a plus-18.8 when he’s playing. His pick-and-roll and lob-finishing ability has assisted the Warriors’ spacing, as they shoot a better percentage when he’s on the court (NBA.com/Stats).

Not only is he taking advantage of a special opportunity with the championship contender, but he’s also immersing himself in the backdrop of Silicon Valley, arranging visits with venture capitalists and startup catalysts.

“I’m taking meetings with everybody,” he said. “Being out here is a hell of an opportunity, so I plan on taking advantage of it as much as I can. It’s about networking and hopefully projects come out of it.”

McGee, who calls himself “really witty and quick with it,” also took a stab at comedy earlier this month during the improv show in Chicago. And he’s considering taking the craft more seriously one day.

“It was a lot of hard work,” said McGee, whose favorite shows are Broad City and Workaholics on Comedy Central. “That’s the thing about it people don’t really realize—you have to memorize that stuff. It wasn’t Saturday Night Live where they had cue cards. I’ve been there, too. But they had to memorize all that stuff, so it was pretty impressive. It was definitely a positive thing, and I just feel like it might be time for me to show the world my personality.”

One endeavor McGee is already taking to the next phase is his music production under his alter ego, Pierre. “I just made it up,” he said. “I got tired of introducing myself to people and people Googled me immediately. Know me for me—not because I play basketball.” A lover of all genres of music, he’s releasing a couple of tracks he made in the next few weeks, and he envisions working with famous artists.

“I’ve taken the DJ Khaled route, but I’m actually producing music to where it’s like Pierre featuring [so and so artist],” he said.

And then, of course, there’s the biggest off-the-court interest that’s changed his life: being a new father to a five-month-old daughter—another career milestone for him this season. In fact, he did research on the childbirth system and did a home birth because he felt it was “the safest way to go.”

“I was hands-on. I was right there when the water burst,” he said. “It’s amazing. She’s beautiful. It’s definitely a blessing. I just get to wake up and she’s just smiling and always happy. Just thinking about the human process, just being a human, it’s crazy. It makes you think you can literally do anything. And this person is going to grow up to be a grown up and live their own life.”

And she will have her father to thank for teaching her that there are many stages beyond sports—from comedy to community—where you can make a major difference in peoples’ lives.

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