CSN's Journey to Cambodia

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CSN's Journey to Cambodia

Watch entire two-part documentary here

I mean hell on Earth. Its apocalyptic. I used to tell people it would be like a scene after World War III, after the nuclear holocaust. You dont feel like youre on Earth. -- Bill Smith

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia -- Its a vast wasteland of trash, poverty and disease; a mountain of garbage, a world without hope.

Its a place youd never want to visit, let alone live your life. And yet, that is the reality for hundreds of Cambodians whose dead-end existence brought them to a place where only a miracle can save them.

Or a man with a camera who wanted to help.

Bill Smith, the longtime team photographer for the Chicago Bulls, Bears, and Blackhawks found the Phnom Penh garbage dump while visiting Cambodia 10 years ago. Think of the dirtiest place in the United States, multiply it by 20 and that is where these people work and live -- many of them children, who scavenge through the garbage for 30 cents a day, enough to buy morsels of food.

Its the kind of scene you cant forget. Bill certainly couldn't. It changed his life -- and because of him -- has since transformed the lives of over 100 children from the garbage dump.

He and Chicago Bulls executive Joe ONeil have created A New Day Cambodia, a center two miles from the garbage dump that provides free shelter, food and education for children who once had nothing.

Now they have a chance at life -- which is everything.

The look and sparkle in their eyes is the just the biggest difference, Smith said. Hopelessness becomes hope for the future and its not just that they are clean. They have a whole different persona. They hold their head higher, they have pride, they take care of themselves and feel more human than they were before.

Tuesday and Wednesday at 7 p.m. CT, Comcast SportsNet will air From the Sports World to the Third World: A Journey to Cambodia, a two-part documentary that takes you inside the garbage dump as well as the center for A New Day Cambodia.

In Part 1, youll meet people like Sokha Chen, who was orphaned at the age of 9, and was living on the side of a road with her brother for six months. After her brother died, she made her way to the garbage dump where Smith found her in 2007. Five years later shes thriving at a New Day Cambodia. She goes to one of the best private schools in the country, she was recently featured in Newsweek as one of 150 women who shake the world, and last year traveled to the White House where she met first lady Michelle Obama.

The metamorphosis from one child to the next is extraordinary.

Ill never forget the day we went out and picked up these children at these shacks and literally the parents said good-bye to their children, ONeill recalls. I think we moved about 15 or 16 kids in the first trip. These kids had to learn how to use a toilet. They had never used showers before. We had hired a staff here and we were scared beyond belief.

Smith and ONeil had no experience in starting or running a charity, let alone 8,000 miles away from their homes in Chicago.

I was worried. My intentions were good, but maybe we had made a mess of things, maybe we had made a mess of their lives, Smith said. We didn't know what we were doing. We took them away from their parents, we turned their lives upside down, we dont really know what were doing, we have no experience in this, but it worked.

In Part 2 on Wednesday, we follow along as Smith and ONeil go into the slums of the garbage dump to choose four more children to bring to the center.

One of the kids is a malnourished 7-year-old boy named Mey-Mey who was living with his mother and five siblings in a one-room shack with barely any possessions.

Smith says that he feels like hes playing God when he decides which children to rescue. Looking inside the home of Mey-Mey, he knew immediately the difference he and ONeil could make in the young boys life.

This puts donation money to work in a way that every single penny will count for this boy, said Smith, standing outside the familys shack, which was surrounded by garbage.

This means the world to this family. Its like giving them a million dollars, or a thousand dollars a week for life. They have absolutely nothing, and now theyre going to have their youngest child go to school.

At home, Smith and ONeil have their minds set on their full-time jobs back in Chicago. However, a large part of their hearts are always with those who they have saved thousands of miles away.

 This is not a charity that you do for a year or two, or a dinner you support and then say, Heck with it. We have 100 children here and they aren't going away, ONeil said. We want to send everyone on their way where they can self-sustain and start a family, provide for that family, provide for their former family and improve not only their life but elevate their country and give back to their country and other children and help the new kids coming along.

Smith has made a career out of taking photographs of some of the most iconic figures in Chicago sports history: Michael Jordan, Dennis Rodman, Derrick Rose, Walter Payton and Jim McMahon.

They are heroes for their achievements. The same should be said for Smith and ONeil. Athletes affect lives.

These two men are changing them.

People are neglected, and for some weird reason, Joe and I, weve figured out how to do this, Smith said. And we feel a responsibility now. Like we actually know how to go out to a garbage dump and pick out kids and deal with the parents, and its just kind of an unusual talent that we have learned. They have become part of our family. Its an extension of our family over here and what we get out of it is coming to see our extended family and watch them prosper.

Chicago Mag is right: The Bulls will be must-watch in 2016 with Wade, Rondo

Chicago Mag is right: The Bulls will be must-watch in 2016 with Wade, Rondo

No one knows how all the new pieces the Bulls brought in this offseason - eight, to be exact - will fit together.

The team opened training camp on Tuesday, and it should come as no surprise that everyone seems to be getting along just fine. It won't be until the real games get going close to Halloween that we see how the new team, built by GM Gar Forman and VP John Paxson, fares. And realistically, the squad won't be a finished project until well into 2017.

But as Chicago Mag's Adam Waytz wrote earlier this week, no matter how the new faces - particularly two veteran champions in Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo - mesh together, the Bulls will be must-watch television in 2016-17.

Yet for all of Rondo’s outward absurdity, a similar strangeness lurks just below Wade’s surface, manifesting in an occasional thrown elbow and, this summer, in his erratic exit from the Miami Heat. Wade had no reason to leave Miami, where he led the team in 2006 to its first championship and holds franchise records for points, games played, assists, and steals. Yet the looming presences of Shaquille O’Neal and Pat Riley on the 2006 team, followed by LeBron James’s arrival in Miami (and subsequent departure!) overshadowed Wade’s steadfast tenure as the most successful athlete in South Florida history. Then came this summer’s contract quibbles.

But Wade’s departure had little to do with money. It was about the Heat, and the league more broadly, slowly wallpapering over his relevance as a top five all-time shooting guard.

This slow burn of Wade’s ego is the flame to Rondo’s fuse. Rondo also unwillingly tumbled into obscurity, with each setback—a 2013 ACL injury, his acrimonious 48-game Dallas stay, and a purgatorial last season in Sacramento (where a national audience ignored his career bests in rebounding and 3-point shooting)—fueling his resolve. For both Wade and Rondo, arriving in Chicago signaled a pressure release—they have already vocally deferred team leadership duties to Jimmy Butler—yet their pride still smolders.

Bulls fans now get to sit back and watch the Wade-Rondo redemption tour, a revenge fantasy that Tarantino could not have stunt-cast better. If all goes as planned, Rondo’s eccentric aggression will allow Wade to access the strange spite he secretly harbors, and Wade’s polish will set an example for Rondo, guiding him to restore luster to his recently tarnished reputation. If nothing else, watching their rejuvenation will be way more fun than pondering the sadness behind Rose’s eyes or wondering whether Noah and Taj Gibson can play together.

One has to wonder, too, about how much Wade's decision to return home had to do with his best friend, LeBron James, doing the same in Cleveland two years ago. And even though he's already dubbed the Bulls as Jimmy Butler's team, it thrusts him back into the spotlight playing for the team he dreamed about ever since he was a kid.

For both Wade and Rondo, it's also an opportunity to rebound from sub-par years. Wade played in 74 games, his most since 2010, but shot a career-worst 45.6 percent from the field, and his 19.0 points and 4.6 assists were the lowest since his rookie season 13 years ago. That's not to say the future Hall of Famer doesn't have plenty left in the tank - he does, at witnessed by his stellar playoff performance - but some added motivation in a new jersey will serve him well.

Rondo has even more to prove. The Bulls will be his fourth team since the start of the 2013 season, and while he led the NBA in assists per game last year (11.7) his shot and defense remain liabilities. Both Rondo and Wade can opt out of their deals after this season, and while that doesn't mean leaving the Bulls per se, there are financial games to be made by the pair having dominant seasons.

Combine that with Jimmy Butler attempting to prove he can play nice with a pair of Alphas, and as Waytz wrote, there will be something new to watch for every night.

Time will tell if Fred Hoiberg can harness the egos, talent and attitudes in the Bulls locker room. But one thing's for certain: no matter the outcome, it'll be worth watching.

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