SAN FRANCISCO — For Dwight Powell, being of mixed race while growing up in the Toronto suburb of North York was the norm. And while the Dallas Mavericks center is now eight years removed from living in the suburb, his diverse upbringing still has a strong impact on how he sees the world today.
“I grew up different than most,” Powell told Andscape recently. “Toronto is a super diverse city. I had very few friends that were second-generation Canadians. I’m a first-generation Canadian. We had a lot of different people from different walks of life. Different faith.
“It was important for us growing up to learn about everybody’s culture. It helps you better understand them and build together.”
The comfort level Powell feels among different cultures is also reflected in his travels. The 30-year-old has been to Egypt, India, China, Russia, Maldives, United Arab Emirates, Greece, Italy, Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia, Spain, Mexico and Estonia. It is also not uncommon for him to travel abroad by himself.
Powell believes that traveling to learn about different countries and cultures is “one of the most important things you can do.”
“I’ve done a lot of traveling over the years,” Powell said. “I learned a lot about cultures, which is super important. But it wasn’t until I traveled completely by myself that I learned the real benefit of traveling. That is learning about yourself. You realize some things about the way you’ve been living and your own personality when you’re put into a different culture and on your own. You have to figure things out. Some of that should be done as soon as possible, as young as possible, with as few limitations as possible.”
Powell’s favorite country to travel to is Egypt, which he has visited at least five times. He has enjoyed visiting the pyramids, spending nights in the desert, relaxing on the beach, making clay pots and visiting a childhood friend who owns a coffee house and roastery in 6th of October City, located outside of Cairo.
“I love history, especially if I can see it firsthand,” Powell said. “Egypt obviously has a bunch of layers of history that has been there a very, very long time. I also love the country. There are so many different things to do there.”
So has Powell figured out where he will go this offseason?
“I don’t know yet. We’ll see how far we go,” said Powell, whose Mavericks visit the Golden State Warriors for Game 5 of the Western Conference finals on Thursday night. “That plays a role in everything. I haven’t started planning it yet.”
Powell, who was selected 45th overall in the 2014 NBA draft and spent a short time in Boston before being traded to Dallas, averaged 8.7 points and 4.9 rebounds for the Mavericks this season. And though he’s been less of a factor statistically in the postseason – he was held scoreless in 12 minutes during the Mavericks’ 119-109 win over the Warriors in Game 4 on Tuesday night – Mavs coach Jason Kidd said that Powell’s lack of production is because of the opponent’s zone defense.
“We didn’t see this much zone in the regular season,” Kidd said after Game 4. “So, for Dwight, he is doing everything we’ve asked him to do against the zone. In the zone, we are getting wide-open looks. For him, we need him to rebound the ball and bring his energy. But when we see zone the majority of the game, it takes him out of the game for his role in lobs, the thing he does best.”
Dwight Harlan Powell was born in Toronto on July 20, 1991. Powell’s father, Harlan Powell, is a white Canadian, while his late mother, Jacqueline Weir, was of Jamaican descent and born in the West Indies. After his parents split up when he was young, Powell and his mother lived in North York, about eight miles north of Toronto.
North York has a population of nearly 1 million people and today is very well known for having residents from all over the world. North York included people who were white, Chinese, South Asian, Black, Arab-West Asian, Filipino, Latin American, Korean, Southwest Asian and mixed-raced inhabitants. You could go to the Aga Khan Museum to learn about the Islamic civilizations or go to the Cultura Festival every Friday in July to celebrate diversity with world-renowned musicians, international street food and more.
Powell said his upbringing in North York framed “everything for me.”
“It instilled a lot of curiosity in me because there was never just one way to do something for me,” Powell said. “I realized there was different ways to pray. Different ways to eat. Different ways to love. People that were living life and happy in completely different ways.
“It framed a level of curiosity for me at a young age. I was always trying to learn as much as possible because there were a lot of different ways to go through this life. If I can take pieces from everyone I meet, it is going to benefit me in the long run.”
Growing up in “The City with Heart,” a nickname garnered by earning its charter on Valentine’s Day in 1979, also helped him to be comfortable with all ethnicities, religions and sexual orientations he came across.
“I had very few friends growing up where both parents were the exact same race. I don’t think I have one friend that is. I had friends who had religions that people may see as the opposite side of the spectrum. They come from all different sides of the world,” Powell said.
While Powell grew up in a comfortable melting pot, he acknowledged that there “were definitely some challenges” with race.
Powell attended Earl Haig Secondary School in North York during his freshman year of high school before moving to the United States to attend IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, to improve his hopes of landing a college scholarship. The excellent student ended up taking a basketball scholarship at Stanford University over Harvard University.
Powell says he has been considered Black, mixed-race and white, depending on “the circle” he’s in. Either way, the 2020 NBA Community Assist Award winner is very proud to just be himself.
“While I was young, my race wasn’t a factor,” Powell said. “But as you grow up, and people start to claim identities, you have some questions. I’ve always been proud of what I am, where I’m from and it didn’t have a negative effect on me, thankfully.”