More Than a Game

Jeff Schwaber has raised $3 million (and counting) for D.C.’s homeless

Published in 2008 Maryland Super Lawyers — January 2008

The best player to take the floor in the annual Home Court charity basketball game between the Georgetown Law School faculty (Georgetown Loyas) and members of the U.S. Congress (Hill’s Angels) was neither Maryland’s Tom McMillen nor New Jersey’s Bill Bradley—two legislators who once played in the NBA. No, the best player was Washington Redskins wide receiver Gary Clark.

Clark was supposed to referee but insisted on playing. The Angels agreed to take him on and the results weren’t pretty.

“He was off the charts. He was dunking backwards over guys,” says Jeff Schwaber, 46, a principal in Rockville’s Stein, Sperling, Bennett, De Jong, Driscoll & Greenfeig, who conceived of Home Court while a student at Georgetown. “We’ve had a wide range of talent. We’ve had some amazing players [like Clark] and we’ve had some that you just can’t imagine why they’re out there.”

The event, which just celebrated its 20th year, has produced some hilarious moments, too, such as a photo of 7-foot-7-inch Washington Bullets center Manute Bol standing next to 4-foot-10-inch Georgetown professor Florence Roisman. But the reason for Home Court is as serious as they come.

In the late 1980s, while at Georgetown, Schwaber would walk by one of the nation’s largest men’s homeless shelters on his way to the school’s Capitol Hill campus.

“It just struck me as such ironic juxtaposition,” says Schwaber, who specializes in complex commercial litigation.

Soon Schwaber was volunteering for the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless, doing intake once a week and following up on cases for the shelter’s residents. One sleepless night he dreamed up a benefit basketball game to raise money for the clinic.

The idea quickly gained momentum. A dean got the Redskins involved. Schwaber contacted the office of New York Democrat Tom Downey, who played ball regularly with a group that included David Obey of Wisconsin and Ed Markey from Massachusetts. All agreed to play.

For the first game, the seemingly outmanned Georgetown faculty kept it close, perhaps because McMillen seemed to be holding back and Bradley barely played. In the closing seconds, with the Loyas (shockingly) down by only two, the ball wound up in the hands of 5-foot-5-inch Georgetown Dean Tom Krattenmaker, who tossed up a desperation shot from well beyond the three-point line that fell through the net as the buzzer sounded. The crowd went wild.

“The pep band was going crazy,” professor Pete Wales recently told The Washington Post. “[Krattenmaker] went running around the court with his hands extended like he’d just won the Super Bowl.”

“That was definitely our most dramatic ending,” says Schwaber, a triathlete who trains six days a week and competes in three or four Olympic-distance triathlons a year. More important, the event, which was supposed to raise $10,000 that year, took in $40,000, and in 20 years Home Court has raised more than $3 million.

Being neither professor nor congressman, Schwaber can’t play in the game he organizes. “I have come to the conclusion that the Clinic needs my help with fundraising more than they need my jumpshot,” he says.

He adds: “[The homeless are] a constituency that is highly underrepresented. … To represent them is way more important than the basketball game. That’s the reason I do it. Not the game.”

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