John Wall strolled through the gates of the Goodman League basketball court early Saturday morning. When he spotted a familiar face from his John Wall Family Foundation crew, he pantomimed laying his head on a pillow. He was sleepy. But soon the Washington Wizards star was dancing to a deejay’s mix and placing backpacks over the shoulders of hundreds of children at his fifth annual giveaway.
Wall, who personally handed out the packs, has traditionally held the yearly event around Southeast Washington. The home to the popular Goodman League, a summer showcase where Wall and Kevin Durant once put on a show in 2011, is in the same Ward 8 community in which Wall donated $400,000 to the child development center, Bright Beginnings.
“No matter what part [of the city] I’m in it’s just an opportunity to give back to the community, kind of bless these people with the opportunity to have stuff to go back to school with,” Wall said. “It’s just fun for me and something I’d like to do. I’m not forced to be here. I just do it because I want to and to see the smiles on these kids’ faces is what I do it all for.”
Angela Nivens brought her two children to the backpack giveaway. Though she lives in Ward 7, Nivens works at a school within the Ward 8 boundary and recognizes the need for school supplies for some children.
“I feel like my school population doesn’t get a lot of resources,” Nivens said. “So for him to come to Ward 8, that’s a blessing.”
“They need it here,” Nivens continued.
Nivens’s daughter, 10-year-old London Nickols, was one of the first in line. Just as he did for all the students, Wall pulled the backpack onto her shoulders then smiled for the camera phones.
“He’s very friendly,” Nivens said. “He’s not stuck up. He’s willing to come around. We love that about John Wall.”
While Wall greeted and posed with children for three hours at his morning event, about three miles away in another Southeast location, Wizards power forward Markieff Morris and his F.O.E. Foundation held another backpack giveaway. Among the highlights of the event inside Ridge Road Recreation Center: 200 backpacks donated by Herschel Supply Co., free snacks and 10 bicycles given to raffle winners.
“It’s always important to give back to kids, because we come from poverty,” said Angel Morris, the mother of Markieff and his twin brother, Marcus, who also plays in the NBA. “Back in my time and their time … we didn’t have backpack drives. So if you’re fortunate enough to do a backpack drive and give out some toys, give out some food, do whatever, then you should be able to.”
Wall and Markieff Morris continued the theme of NBA benevolence for the week. On Monday, superstar LeBron James opened a public school for at-risk students in his hometown of Akron, Ohio. Derrick Rose also announced a $400,000 college scholarship fund.
“He set the bar higher than anything,” Wall said of James before heaping praise on Rose. “That’s the platform you have to have when you have these opportunities. It’s not about all the money that you make but what can you do to give back. … We’re blessed to be able play the game that we love to make sure that our families can be straight later down the road, but can you help other people out? That’s what it’s all for.”