The Wizards team hotel in Memphis is directly across the street from the FedEx Forum, a simple walk that makes boarding a team bus seem unnecessary and pretentious. Teams still take bus rides to the arena, but on Thursday, the Wizards didn’t give the players the option of walking over for practice.
Within minutes of departing the hotel, the Wizards players began to understand why they all needed to be on board. After making the initial left toward the arena, the bus diverted and took another left turn to a main street headed elsewhere. “I was like, ‘Where are we going?’ ” said Martell Webster, who was familiar with the drive to the arena.
A few minutes later, the Wizards realized that they were headed to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, where the players would visit with children battling traumatic diseases.
The Wizards probably needed practice after losing two in a row for the first time since John Wall returned, but they were able to schedule a last-minute change in plans after arriving from Philadelphia. And players, coaches and other staff were pleased to have the opportunity to gain some perspective on what really matters. They met kids and families who remain encouraged and inspired despite some early challenges in life.
“It was a lot of kids, beautiful kids of all ages, babies, and to go in there and see them still have smiles on their faces, just to come see some of their idols or people that they look up to,” Webster said after the visit. “A lot of them are in extreme pain, going through chemotherapy. Some had brain surgery. They are coming out, smiling, hugging and taking pictures.”
Most players were unaware of the services that St. Jude provides as a nonprofit organization that treats children from all over the country and the globe. According to its website, the hospital treats nearly 8,000 patients yearly. No child is denied treatment because of financial reasons.
“It’s an amazing place. I got chills when the lady was telling us about it,” Garrett Temple said. “To put a smile on some kids faces, going to the hospital and being able to talk to some kids and understand you have a little bit of influence and make their day better than it was, was just a blessing to be able to do that.”
Webster has his own foundation to work with inner-city kids and is also a father of three daughters. He said the visit was an invaluable experience.
“Every living moment, it should be cherished, because you never know when life could be snatched away. Seeing these kids definitely reminds me of how important it is to love your family and children and to love other children,” he said. “The whole time, all I wanted to do was pick up one of those kids and give them a hug. Going into some of the inpatient rooms, we couldn’t come in and have parents come out with their kids to take pictures with me and the team, was amazing.”