Karim Harris: When the Team Becomes Family

For Karim Harris, basketball has given him a jump-start on the better life his family dreamt for him.

Not every kid who enjoys basketball gets the chance to grow up learning and enjoying the game. For one Baltimore teenager, honing his talents required him to move away from home, and in the process, build new bonds and a brighter future.


Karim Harris, 17, didn’t discover basketball so much as it found him. He was a third-grader in York, Pennsylvania, one who was head and shoulders taller than his classmates, who liked to hang out in the gym after school shooting hoops. A coach saw his potential and convinced him to sign up for an after-school league, and within a season, Karim’s team had a championship title with him at center.


“From there, I just fell in love with the game,” says Karim. “I knew I wasn’t that great, but I played a big role in that team to just work hard, rebound, do whatever my coaches needed me to do.”

That moment of getting into the game and having access to a community that supported and challenged him to want to be better, changed Karim’s life. Over the next couple of years, Karim devoted himself to improving his skills and embracing the sport.


“Being tall is one thing, but then there’s all the strategy, the rest of the game,” he said, “and I felt like I was coordinated enough to know what they were talking about, and work on the things they wanted me to.”


Karim’s mother Louisa Rodriguez saw the changes too. As Karim’s father had passed away before he was born, she was raising him and his two siblings on her own. The family had limited money, and she worried about the environment around them.


“The neighborhood was pretty violent, and my mom didn’t want me to grow up in that situation,” Karim said. “Friends were getting caught up in the wrong thing, but I had a good head on my shoulders and my mom told me to stick with it.”

So, at age 12, Karim and his family made the choice for him to move to the Baltimore area, where he would live with family friends Tyisha Bogues-Gunter and Woody Gunter and focus on basketball. He also joined Team Thrill, a nationally recognized AAU basketball program sponsored by Under Armour.


Tyisha and Woody gave Karim the chance to build support network of teammates and coaches – the people who could push him on the court and make sure he had a way to get to and from practice – but with this change also came the shock of being in a new setting with higher expectations.


“As soon as I got to Baltimore, I was told this is a top program, big-boy basketball,” he said. “It forced me to adjust my game and build off of that and find out that I’m actually great at this and I can do something with this ball.”

Karim credits Dobbins for helping to make the move possible, from helping with living arrangements to motivating him for the future. “If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t be competing,” Karim said. “He found the best situation for me, like I was a little brother who pulled up here.

“That’s what I love about the program, because it’s bigger than basketball, it’s a family.”

Karim Harris

Now a small forward for Calvert Hall College High School, Karim has blossomed as a player. No longer the kid who’s taller than everyone else on the court, he has grown and adjusted his game to playing on the perimeter, picking up speed and defensive skills to the point that he’s mentioned among the top prospects for his class across Maryland.


Karim calls his mother and siblings several times a week to make sure they stay connected with the work in progress – not just the improvements he wants to make in his game, but the goals for his future, too.


“It’s pretty hard on my mom but she understood it more than I did – she made the decision for me and accepted what it meant,” Karim said. “I work to get better every day, and even if it’s not basketball where I make it, she believes I’m going to be something one day, 100 percent.”


Karim can be seen flexing his skills in Under Armour’s newest creative to support its recently announced commitment to breaking down barriers for those who strive for more by creating opportunities for millions of youth to engage in sport by 2030. To see Karim on the court, click HERE and check out the UA Newsroom for more information on how Under Armour is tackling the barriers that keep young athletes from participating in sport.