A Jazz public relations staffer later told me that Rush, Lucas and longtime NBA player Richard Jefferson are outgoing and gregarious like that whenever they attend community relations events or do meet-and-greets with fans. Say what you will about their basketball abilities — and, boy, have they received plenty of criticism — but they’re the types of players that teams want representing them in public situations. Or in private ones, as was the case with my family.
Here’s where this tale evolves into my favorite personal story of the season.
On Friday morning, I was in a hall near the EnergySolutions Arena court waiting to interview players after the Jazz’s morning pregame shootaround. I was chatting with team employees when Lucas left the arena. The point guard smiled when he saw me and said, “I’ve got something for your kids.”
Lucas returned from the Jazz locker room with two styrofoam to-go containers, securely (and awesomely) wrapped in sticky white medical tape.
He’d brought pumpkin cheesecake for my kids.
I was genuinely stunned.
Society sometimes dehumanizes professional athletes, almost turning them into mythical characters, heroes and villains there to entertain and infuriate real people. Athletically, they can do things we can only dream or write about. Physically, they’re often stronger, quicker and taller. Financially, they make more money than most of us could even think about spending. They lead rich-and-famous lifestyles that most people only fantasize about. We put them on pedestals when they succeed, help our teams win and do SportsCenter-worthy acts. Or we criticize and demean them when they play poorly and contribute to our teams’ losses.
On this morning, John Lucas III showed that he’s far from being a stereotypical narcissistic athlete.
I didn’t see an NBA player standing in front of me.
What I saw was a good-hearted man trying to make three young strangers happy through a thoughtful act. I’ve been on this assignment for six years and have never had a similar experience. Athletes and writers often only give each other questions and quotes, maybe funny or awkward exchanges. I don’t even think Lucas knows my name or who I work for. I wouldn’t doubt if he’d do this for anybody’s kids. That just seems to be his character.
The considerate offering warmed this father’s heart.
After thanking him, I jokingly told Lucas, “I’ll try really hard to make sure some of the pie makes it home to my kids.”
It did. All of it even.
Friday was a busy day, including that night’s Suns-Jazz game. I didn’t get home until about midnight. But my kids were thrilled to have a Saturday morning breakfast that included pumpkin cheesecake with a graham cracker crust and whipped cream.
“It’s nice,” Ethan said, grinning, when told that the pie came from the Jazz point guard they’d just met.
“It’s good!” Aidan exclaimed.
“Yummy!” Sydney added.
Baby Jack loved this breakfast of champions, too. Dad started digging in as well until Aidan noticed and joked, “How dare you eat my cake!”
My family decided it’d be fun to make thank-you cards, which were later read by a smiling Lucas. This card-making process resulted in one girl crying, fights breaking out, and cheesecake accidentally being smeared on the paper.
“How do you spell Jazz guy?” our 4-year-old asked while decorating his card with colorful markers.
My wife, Heather, helped him write “Jazz Guy John.”
I can think of another way.
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