On Monday, Wizards President Ernie Grunfeld, Vice President of Business Operations Greg Bibb, Mystics player Matee Ajavon, Wizards mascot G-Wiz, Wizards players and the Wizard Girls piled onto a bus to visit five D.C. families. They came with presents and holiday cheer.
The first stop was with the Curtis family in Northeast. John Wall, Martell Webster, Chris Singleton, Bradley Beal, Jordan Crawford and Nene gathered in a small room shared by most of the family’s six children. The room had almost no furniture, so the players stacked the gifts in the corner as the wide-eyed children sat on the room’s only bed.
“This means so much,” said Lavern Curtis, the childrens’ mother. “For these kids to have this, have [the Wizards] show this love, it means the world.”
As the group piled onto the bus after a tearful goodbye, the looks on their faces said they knew that this wasn’t just about bringing presents to community children.
“The most important thing is for that mother to know we see her working her butt off to provide for her children,” Webster said as the bus headed to the second of five houses they visited. “But she can’t quite give them everything that she feels like they deserve. And we step in to let them know that they’re not forgotten.”
At the next stop, they met the Flores family, followed by the Short family. A few neighbors stopped at the unexpected sight of six Wizards players getting off a bus in Northeast. There were pictures and handshakes, everyone in tow becoming more emotional as the day’s stories got deeper.
Wanda Yates-Glenn, the matriarch of the day’s fourth stop in Southeast, said she suffers from a number of health conditions, including high blood pressure, diabetes and seizures. She suffered a stroke in 2009 and was in a coma for several
months. At one point, she was on life support and not expected to live. She shares her apartment with her children and grandchildren: 3-year-old Curtis, who requires a feeding tube, and 1-year-old Kameron, who suffered a seizure and stroke at 5 months old.
“You’ve gotta understand. You just don’t know what life is like,” said Yates-Glenn, who fought through tears to express herself. “I never thought I would live to see the day. Not only for me, but to have something this exciting happen for these kids. This is just amazing.”
As Nene put an arm around her shoulder for support, she added: “It’s just so hard. But I am so blessed today.”
Robin Young, the fifth and final stop of the day, is the grandmother of five children. She was given custody after her son was killed in 2005. She also has permanent custody of her great nieces after their mother was entered into hospice care with a fatal disease. As the bus pulled up to the house in Southeast, 10-year-old Bryan watched from the front porch with wide eyes and a dropped jaw.
The sight of his favorite athletes walking in the door was too much for the child, who has had a difficult adjustment since losing his father. As Nene walked in, Bryan threw his arms around the waist of the Brazilian big man and started sobbing. Nene passed his armful of presents over to a teammate so he could return the embrace.
When he was able to pull away, I asked Bryan why he hugged Nene.
“He’s a basketball player,” he said, wiping his eyes with the back of his hand. “He’s a superstar.”
If there was a common thread among each house, that was it. All of these children felt like they were visited by superstars. Perhaps 8-year-old Jason Flores summed it up best.
“Thank you for the presents you gave us,” he read aloud from a thank-you card he had made for the players. “This makes us feel special.”
There was a brief pause before Webster filled the silence.
“Well, you are special,” he said.