ORLANDO – At the Dallas Mavericks’ practice facilities, he became affectionally known as the assistant coach who rings the bell and proceeds to announce a big accomplishment by one of the team’s players. But in Orlando, Darrell Armstrong is known as the guy with a big heart who answered the bell while reaching out to help others in need.
In 1998, Armstrong started the Darrell Armstrong Foundation for Premature Babies, with the sole purpose of helping families with premature babies and other medical needs. On Thursday, during an off day for the Mavs before they play the Orlando Magic on Friday at 6 p.m. at the Amway Center, Armstrong received a glass trophy from the AdventHealth Foundation of Central Florida for his tireless work in their various communities.
Armstrong’s foundation has donated over $1 million since 2002 to help AdventHealth for Children and its programs that assist families with premature babies. It’s a cause near and dear to Armstrong, since he has a son and a daughter who were both born prematurely.
A guard for the Magic from 1995-2003, Armstrong knows of the financial burdens and stress and strain that goes with having a premature baby and simply wanted to step up and help in any way he could. Since his foundation started, Armstrong has opened three child development centers in Central Florida and has also purchased an ambulance to transport children from one hospital to another.
“This foundation has been blessed, and in so many ways we also have blessed a lot of premature babies and a lot of families to give them the extra help and care that they need, and that’s what you want,” Armstrong told Mavs.com in an exclusive interview. “I want babies, I want kids to have a future and have a chance to make a difference in this world, and I believe we are giving them that chance.”
Thomas Roscoe, the vice-president of the Darrell Armstrong Foundation for Premature Babies, runs the foundation because Armstrong spends the lion’s share of his time in Dallas working with the Mavs. The two men met while they both were employees of the Magic, and ironically, Roscoe has a daughter who was born prematurely.
“Darrell was always big in the community and doing community stuff, so whenever I needed to go out and get players to do things (for the Magic), Darrell was always one of the first guys who said he would do it,” Roscoe said. “So, during that time we bonded as friends as well as working for the Magic, and when the opportunity came to leave the Magic, it was an opportunity to work with Darrell and an opportunity to do some other things.
“When we got started with this we didn’t know how big it was going to become, how many people it was going to impact, but we impact a lot of people all over the country. We’ve got people who come from Puerto Rico for this service, and they get the scholarship money we provide, that we raise.”
Dr. Rajan Wadhawan, the senior executive officer of AdventHealth for Women and AdventHealth for Children, presented Armstrong with the trophy on Thursday.
“We are fortunate in Central Florida to have some of the nation’s best pediatric physicians, medical programs and services,” Dr. Wadhawan said in a press release. “We pray that our children remain healthy, but when they need care – whether it be a preemie fighting to breathe on her own, a toddler with leukemia or teenager facing an epilepsy diagnosis – it’s comforting to know we don’t have to travel far.
“These world-class services have been made possible by the generosity of people who are willing to invest in research, programs and services that they may never personally need. Generous people like Darrell Armstrong. “
Undrafted out of Fayetteville State, Armstrong was known as the quintessential journeyman as a player. Armstrong started his pro career in 1991 with the Atlanta Eagles in the United States Basketball League.
He also played for the Capital Region Pontiacs of the Continental Basketball Association, the South Georgia Blues of the Global Basketball Association, with Pezoporikos Lamaca of Cyprus, and Coren Ourense of the Spanish Liga ACB before joining the Magic.
In addition to his own two kids who were born prematurely, prior to their birth, Armstrong’s brother also has a daughter who was born prematurely.
“My little niece, she had a lot of things to go wrong with her prematurely,” Armstrong said. “She had to get her ankle and leg broken and re-set.
“Even today she kind of walks with her knees bent in a little bit, so she went through that, so that was my first time seeing it. I just knew my niece was born, and then once it hits home with you, then you understand it.”
Armstrong’s daughter, Malia, was born after 36 weeks and weighed three pounds and eight ounces. And his son, Darrell Jr., was born after 34 weeks and weighed four pounds and eight ounces.
Today, Malia is 22 years old and Darrell Jr. is 16 years old.
Meanwhile, Roscoe’s daughter, Malia, was born six weeks early and weighed three pounds and nine ounces, and is now 20 years old.
“We both kind of went through that situation,” Armstrong said of he and Roscoe. “We understood what was going on.”
Dr. Wadhawan stressed that he is overwhelmingly grateful to what Armstrong has been able to do in Central Florida.
“Many Magic fans remember Darrell from his “Heart and Hustle” playing days in Orlando,” Dr. Wadhawan said. “What many don’t know is Darrell’s heart and generosity continues to have an impact on our community even today.
“Throughout the years we’ve been blessed with Magic players who are stars both on and off the court. But how lucky are we to have someone like Darrell, whose commitment to Orlando and our children has transcended several decades.”
Lending a helping hand to those in need, Armstrong noted, is always just the right thing to do. Especially when it comes to parents with premature babies.
“It’s always tough when you see the parents in the special care room and they’re looking at their child and you see (the parents) crying,” Armstrong said. “it’s always tough to watch that, because they can’t fight for their baby.
“The baby’s going to have to do the fighting, so it’s always tough to see the parents in that situation. It’s scary, especially when you’re a first-time parent and you have to go through that.”
That’s why Armstrong didn’t mind answering the bell on a cause very near and dear to his heart.