After 14 seasons in the NBA, I can tell you firsthand that professional basketball is a gigantic cauldron of mixed emotions. At any given moment, a variety of distinctive feelings -- joy, suspense, excitement, disappointment, intensity, frustration -- swirl about, inevitably drawing us in and filling us up (for better and for worse). But there's one particular sentiment, I must admit, that is my personal favorite and that's gratitude.
Gratitude is good upbringing and good manners. Gratitude is humility personified; grace in action and it's made all the more poignant when delivered enthusiastically and wholeheartedly by second graders -- a group I might normally say is too young or too distracted to really understand its meaning.
Ms. LaMarsharee Wilson's second grade students at North Side Elementary in Fort Lauderdale -- recent victims of an unconscionable computer heist -- are teeming with gratitude on the day I tag along with HEAT player James Jones, our television host, courtside reporter and emcee extraordinaire Jason Jackson, mascot Burnie and assorted co-workers.
We're at the school to deliver 20 laptop computers to replace the ones stolen from the youngsters mere days earlier, leaving the financially strapped public school in a heartbreaking quandary. The visit is the latest installation of a program we designed alongside our friends at Kia Motors called "Random Acts of HEAT:" good deeds intended to inspire other folks to reciprocate kindness through their own random acts.
For Ms. Wilson, an affable teacher with wide eyes and an enormous smile, the theft is exceedingly personal. She tells me that above all else, she is thankful we intervened because her students, many of them second generation immigrants, use the laptops to learn English as a second language. "These are my babies," she says emphatically. "They don't deserve to suffer."
Principal Camille LaChance, who is ecstatic and dressed in HEAT colors (red and black), buzzes around the school's media center, where we've gathered for a quick presentation, dispensing one thank you after another.
Emcee Jackson reminds the assembly that "basketball is our business but Miami is our home and you always take care of your home. Being here today is taking care of our home." He kicks it to LaChance, who stands in front of a table where the replacement laptops are on display. She is clearly emotional; moved.
"When we discovered that the laptops were stolen, it really broke our hearts because we struggle at North Side as one of the original schools in Fort Lauderdale," she says. "[North Side] is a historical site and we struggle to bring our kids to the 21st century for learning. We did not know how we would fund the replacement costs of these laptops."
Indeed, the laptop is a necessary modern resource for classrooms everywhere. LaChance calls it a basic supply in the 21st century, "like having paper and pencil." The second graders use the laptops for math reinforcement, language acquisition, research and individualized instruction.
Jones then presents the principal with a team-autographed ball which produces some gleeful gasps in the small audience. She thanks Jones profusely for the visit knowing he must be tired because she says she watched him play the night before when the team was in Cleveland.
"This is worth so much more than playing a game of basketball," says Jones, a Miami native and the father of three young children. "Basketball is a season -- I mean, you play a game, you go home, but these kids spend every day here. This is their safe haven. We want to make sure this is the best environment for them to learn and develop."
Once the formal presentation is complete, the room erupts into ear-splitting squealing, loud clapping and abundant handshaking.
I approach Ms. Wilson, who is beaming. "I am overwhelmed. Over. Whelmed," she repeats, the pause inserted deliberately. "I just can't believe it," she says. "Something negative happens. Then, something just beautiful and great comes out of it. It's a wonderful thing." Apparently, you can't keep a good teacher down.
As I make my way out of the media center, Ms. Wilson has gathered her class next to a hand-painted poster ("Thank You, Miami HEAT") for a group picture. And just then, one of those excited and rambunctious second graders takes a moment to turn and face me and says "thankkkkkk youuuuuuu" before dashing off. Happily ever after might be something out of a fairy tale, but this ending is definitely a happy one.
Random Acts of HEAT is presented by Kia. Check out a photo here.