November 23, 2017

By Lauren A. Jones

Contributing Writer


The Lakers kicked off their annual “A Season of Giving”, presented by East West Bank with a Thanksgiving dinner on Thursday, Nov. 16, at Heart of Los Angeles (HOLA) Lafayette Park recreation center. Nearly 350 children and their family members were served Thanksgiving dinner by Lakers players Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma along with Laker Girls and members of the Lakers staff.

“I can relate to many of these kids,” said the Lakers rookie, Kuzma. “I was an inner-city kid, minority who didn’t have a lot of growing up, so for the heart of L.A. to put on something like this is pretty special.”

Kuzma, a fan favorite on and off the court, grew up in Flint, MI. He was challenged to a three-point shooting contest by one of the students.

“I lost,” Kuzma said laughingly. “I made my first four and the kid took over, he made his last shot and I missed. He could shoot the ball though for sure.”

It was all smiles from both the players and students who spent time posing for selfies and signing autographs.

“A lot of these kids won’t see an NBA player up close and personal,” Kuzma said. He recalled growing up and never having an opportunity to meet a professional basketball player.

“I’m thankful for the opportunity to come to events like this and give out support and show my face and make these kids smile,” Ingram added. “For them to interact with me like I’m just a regular person, which I am, is the best thing.” 

There were children from various youth organizations including the Boys and Girls Club, Los Angeles Urban League, Mix Roots, Parks and Recreation. Students were selected based on their academic achievement and involvement in extracurricular activities for an evening of celebration and thanksgiving.

“We want kids in this part of town to feel like they matter and their potential is just as high as anyone else, no matter where they come from; it speaks nothing to where they can go,” said CEO of HOLA, Tony Brown.

Children enjoyed carnival games, food, and interacting with Laker Girls and players. Jasmine Martinez, a freshman at Sacred Heart High School, was most impressed by the humility shown by the players and the Laker Girls.

“Walking in here today and seeing the cheerleaders, we were speechless,” Martinez said. “The cheerleaders were so humble, it’s like they were normal people .. well they are but it was just so crazy how they were talking to us about our day.” 

Martinez emphasized the stark difference between her traditional Thanksgiving and what she experienced at the Lakers Thanksgiving.

“This was a really good meal, especially because Brandon and Kyle served me the food,” remarked Martinez. The food spread was provided by Lucille’s Smokehouse Bar-B-Que.

Kuzma highlighted how important events like these are to him, being that he also came from an underserved community.

“I didn’t have this in my community and I’m sure these kids don’t understand the significance of it right now, but hopefully they do in the future because this is a big time event,” Kuzma said.

It is the mission of the Lakers organization to host events like these, “to go out and touch the underserved community,” said Keshia Nix, executive director of the Lakers Foundation. “That’s what the holidays are all about; this is something that the Lakers do all the time, but it’s especially important right now with all the things that are happening in the news and the tragedies that have occurred in the last few months.”

Martinez and the other children who were given the opportunity to partake in the Lakers “A Season of Giving,” walked away with a memorable experience that will likely last them a lifetime.

“This is why people are Lakers fans because they do things like this; come out of their way, especially after playing in a game yesterday,. They must be tired and they still came out here,” said Martinez.

The Lakers have partnered with East West Bank for the past 11 years to spread holiday cheer in the Los Angeles community. A Season of Giving will continue through this holiday season.

Category: Sports