On the tenth floor of Children's Memorial Hermann Hospital, the children aren't allowed to do much, considering their condition. Many children are sick, wheelchair-bound or bed-bound. They have an artificial park there called Fondren Park to help give them a feel of what it's like to be outside and to brighten their spirits.
The NBA Cares initiative helped further brighten their spirits Wednesday morning.
Several former NBA and WNBA players visited with children, gave away goodie bags and even played games with them. Recently retired guard (and Houston native) T.J. Ford understands the fight that these kids are going through and hopes that putting a smile on their faces helps make a difference.
"Just to see the condition that some of these kids are in and some of them could be fighting for their life, [and] just coming here to see that joy and take them out of that moment is kind of priceless," Ford said. "You can't put words to describe how it really feels."
The meet-and-greet featured Ford and several other former players including Tina Thompson and Bob Lanier. However, no one brought more smiles to faces than former Houston Rockets center Dikembe Mutombo.
Mutombo, who had the children address him as "Mr. Mutombo," engaged in an air hockey duel with 14-year-old Trey Prater. (By the way, Mutombo still hasn't lost his trash-talking ways, screaming out, "I am the best defensive player ever!")
Mutombo edged out Prater in their duel and threw his arms up in joy afterwards. Even in defeat, Prater had the time of his life.
"It was a once-in-a-lifetime chance; I was in the right place at the right time," Prater said. "It's nice to know that the NBA cares about sick kids."
Prater, who suffers from pancreatitis, was even able to get his shirt autographed by Mutombo. Prater's mother, Nysia Gaskin, appreciated the gesture by the NBA to make the children happy again.
"I just felt very grateful that they were able to come out and spend this time with the kids," Gaskin said. "My son went from being traumatically in pain to having a day full of joy, so it's brought sunshine to his life and to mine as well."
Mutombo then gave helpful advice to the children, telling them to go to college and eat their vegetables so they could eventually have hands at least half the size of his. He even showed them how to do his famous finger wag.
Former Brooklyn Nets head coach Avery Johnson feels the parents needed a hug, and hopes that the players' visit brought the hug the parents needed for themselves and for their children.
"Whenever you can have a chance to come and make a difference in young people's lives, especially in a hospital setting, it does me more good than I'm doing for them," Johnson said. "They think I'm putting a smile on their face, [but] they put a big smile on my face."
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