PHOENIX, Ariz. — There is a side to Steven Hunter many people may not get to see. The former Phoenix Suns player is now a husband, father, and autism advocate.
"Shortly after I started the basketball academy, my son was born," said Hunter. "He was diagnosed with autism at the age of three."
At first, the diagnosis was hard to digest.
"You wonder what your kid is going to be and what he's going to be like, but you worry more about the world and how they're going to treat him and perceive him," said Hunter's wife, Erika.
"It was devastating at first because obviously, you don't know what to expect," said Hunter.
The Hunters turned to community organizations like Southwest Autism Research and Resource Center, or SARRC, for guidance and support. When their son, Blaise, started school, Erika started working as a teacher's aide in his special education classroom.
She learned quickly that public school resources could be scarce.
"You can put in a request for resources, but then you have to wait in line and let it trickle down," Erika said. "A lot of teachers come out of pocket for a lot of things they need, not want, but need to service their kids."
The Hunters paid out of pocket to help Blaise's school and his classmates. They then launched the Steven Hunter Youth Foundation to help cut through any red tape preventing or delaying families from accessing support.
"I want a mom to pick up the phone and call and say, 'you know my kid needs shoes that I can put braces in, and right now I just can't afford it, can you help?' Absolutely," said Erika. "My kid needs a device for school to communicate. Can you help? Absolutely."
The foundation also puts on "Father's United for Kids with Autism," an annual gathering where dads and their kids can connect and share experiences judgment-free.
For Hunter, it is a culmination of what he has learned on the court that determination, knowledge, and teamwork are key components to success.
"When you have a kid with autism or any kid, it takes a village, and so we want to be that support group for a lot of families out there that really need the help," said Hunter.
There is a golf tournament benefitting the Steven Hunter Youth Foundation on August 28.
For more information and ways to get involved visit shyfoundation.com, call 480-514-7499, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
This story was originally published by Danielle Lerner at KNXV.