SALT LAKE CITY — It's been a couple of weeks since NBA players and owners sat down together at the bargaining table.
The Utah Jazz helped set up different kinds of tables Wednesday, giving 3,500 people ample reason to be thankful for a much more heartwarming example of a give-and-take situation.
This was the 13th time the Jazz hosted the "We Care — We Share" dinner celebration for the homeless and low-income population of Salt Lake City.
"Of course it warms your heart to be able to help," Jazz owner Gail Miller said while dishing up meatloaf and cranberry sauce. "But it's sad that there is such a need, and to see the families that come in just makes me want to cry."
Utah Food Services literally cooked up tons of food, Jazz front-office personnel and the Miller family helped serve turkey and trimmings, the Salt Lake City Mission invited thousands of people in need, and the sounds and smells of a holiday party permeated the basketball-less building.
As usual, grins and gratitude were abundant.
Players and hoops highlights, however, are nowhere to be found at EnergySolutions Arena because of the lockout.
"It's a good program and everything," said retired railroad worker Wilson Pace, a Salt Lake City resident who helps with the Indian Walk-In Center. "I didn't know if they were going to have one this year or not because of the NBA lockout."
Thankfully, despite the ongoing NBA labor deal gloom and doom — and an ominous cloud of a possible canceled season looming — this annual festive feast went on.
Though 19,911 basketball seats remain empty every night, on this afternoon hearts and stomachs were filled with appreciation and a charitable meal.
Pace, a grateful recipient of this meal who fondly recalls mingling with the late Larry H. Miller and snapping a shot of Deron Williams serving food, admitted he's glad they surprised him.
"They're better cooks than I am," he said.
The heartwarming event — complete with music, a clothing giveaway, laughter and a spirit of generosity — was a pleasant contrast to what's been happening elsewhere in the NBA world (or not happening such as, say, negotiating toward a deal).
Instead of working together for the good of the sport and fans — and actually playing the game so many love to watch and depend on for their living — owners and players are battling and grasping for their "fair" split of a $4 billion pie (revenue, not pumpkin).
But for a few hours on this day, the focus wasn't on current lawsuits or the #unfollownba campaign by fans on Twitter or ex-Jazz guard DeShawn Stevenson blasting union chief Billy Hunter or mixed news about popular NBA players in Europe (from Andrei Kirilenko being injured to Williams scoring 50 in a game).
Salt Lake City resident Earnest Baker said NBA players "want too much."
On this day, however, Baker's family of 10, including his smiley but diabetes-afflicted wife, their children and grandkids, were appreciative for what they received.
"It's nice of them to do this for the people," said Baker, who's met Karl Malone and D-Will before at this event. "It helps people that aren't able to get turkeys and all of that."
The massive amount of food was donated by Utah Food Services, Vosen's Bread Paradise Bakery and other local purveyors.
All told, the meal — worth $16,250 — included about 6,000 rolls, one ton of potatoes, 1,000 pounds of turkey, 500 pounds of meatloaf and stuffing, 400 pounds of green beans and 4,000 portions of dessert, including traditional pumpkin pie, chocolate lava dome cake and apple pie-spice cranberry cake.
Leftovers will be used for the Salt Lake Mission's Thanksgiving Day dinner for about 3,000 people.
The Millers, according to Utah Food Services chef/owner Robert Sullivan, donated about $5,000 worth of soda, coffee, space and volunteers.
"Without them, we wouldn't be able to do this. They have been most generous," Sullivan said. "It's become an event for the whole Miller organization to put back into the community as they do in so many ways."
While serving her portion of the meal at the end of the table, Miller teared up when asked what inspires her family and organization to do this every year.
"It's because we've been so blessed," she said, softly. "It's no fair keeping it to yourself; that's an easy answer. Where we can help we certainly want to."
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