Bucks give, receive during hospital visit
It can be an awe-inspiring experience for a youngster spending the holiday season in a hospital bed to meet and visit with a professional basketball player face-to-face.
And from the player's perspective, it's a two-way street.
On Dec. 11, the entire Milwaukee Bucks team and coaching staff spread holiday cheer at the MACC Fund Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders at Children's Hospital of Wisconsin, nearly 36 years to the day after the founding of the MACC Fund on Dec. 10, 1976, during halftime of a Bucks game when Jon McGlocklin's jersey No. 14 was retired.
Bucks players and coaches visited with children and their families and distributed over 400 new books to the children thanks do the donations of Sam's Hope. The charity is named after Sam Garner, who was just 12 years old when he and his siblings performed a community service project to collect books and distribute them to those less fortunate.
Sam's Hope works to encourage children to read at home each day, to achieve in school and to provide new books for children to own through over 20 joint projects each year.
Bucks players welcomed the opportunity to visit with the young patients and make their day a bit brighter.
The visit to Children's Hospital of Wisconsin was the first for Bucks guard/forward Marquis Daniels, but he has made numerous such trips during his nine previous seasons in the National Basketball Association, spent with the Dallas Mavericks, Indiana Pacers and Boston Celtics.
"My rookie year was my first experience with the hospital visits," Daniels said. "It was kind of tough at first. Then I considered what a blessing it is for us to be able to be around the kids because they look up to us. To be able to put that memory in their head that they met us really means a lot to me."
Daniels reached out to help many children and their families during his years in Dallas.
"I do some work in the fight against sickle cell anemia," Daniels said. "When I was in Dallas, there were kids who I grew accustomed to seeing. I gave them tickets to the games and they showed me so much strength.
"Some of their parents kept me up do date with how they were doing. It's a great thing to be a part of the those kids' lives."
Bucks guard Doron Lamb had previous experience making hospital visits even before this, his rookie season in the NBA.
"I did that in college, both with my Kentucky team and by myself after our college season," Lamb said. "We went to one of the area hospitals and made a lot of kids happy.
"The big thing is going out there and showing your face just to make those kids happy. We know a lot of them are really sick. When they and their families see NBA players, it makes them smile and laugh."
Lamb, just 21 years old, remembers vividly how much he looked up to professional athletes when he was a child.
"I loved NBA players when I was young, so I know how much it means to some of these kids to meet us,: he said. "And we love going there and making them smile."
Bucks forward/center Ekpe Udoh also got a head start on making team hospital visits prior to beginning his NBA career in 2010.
"We did that as college players at Baylor," Udoh said. "Coach (Scott) Drew always did a good job of getting us in the hospitals during the holidays. It was a really good thing for us to go there and talk to the kids.
"The first time we went, it was emotional. They took us to the terminal side. There was one particular kid who spotted me out of the group. I don't know … I just lost it. He died within the next couple of days. That type of stuff is tough. They're all little kids and they're all in bad shape."
Udoh has drawn inspiration from the fortitude of the young patients he has visited.
"That's a lasting memory," he said. "Even when times aren't good for them, they're like the strongest in the world."
"It's a blessing for us to be able to visit them. It feels good, but at the end of the day, you know it's a serious matter, and that it could all be over for some of them soon. That's tough."
"All of my experiences have been good ones," he said. "Just being able to see those kids and put smiles on their faces is great. You might think your day is going bad, but you realize that their day is a lot worse than yours. Just walking in and seeing those smiles means a lot to me."
Bucks center Joel Przybilla remembers visiting sick children and their families even before he even began playing college basketball. And he has made many visits since then.
"When I was in the McDonald's All-American Game, we went to the Ronald McDonald House," Przybilla said. "I visited hospitals when I played in Milwaukee previously and every year when I was in Oregon (playing for the Portland Trail Blazers).
"I just enjoy putting smiles on not only the kids' faces, but their families', too. They're going through a lot. It really puts things in perspective. These kids are fighting for their lives and we're out playing basketball. It helps us not take for granted how much we have."
Przybilla's hospital visits came with a different perspective after he became a father.
"Having kids of my own now, if I was in the situation the patients and their families are in, I don't know how I'd handle it," Przybilla said. "They are strong people. It's a great thing we do, and honestly, I've talked to Skip (Robinson, the Bucks' Director of Community Relations and Player Development) about doing it more. It's so meaningful for the kids and for the parents when we do that.
"Everytime I go, I really enjoy it. I really do think we really should do it more often. It's for such a good cause. Sometimes I don't think we realize the impact we have on people."
The young patients can have a powerful impact on the players, too.
"They are heroes," Daniels said. "People might not think that, but they inspire us as well because they keep fighting and keep pushing when they could easily give up. When we see that, it gives us inspiration to keep doing what we're doing. They don't understand that they're helping us as well."
Przybilla echoed Daniels' sentiments.
"Some of the kids are unbelievable, and their families are, too," he said. "Once you're there and you see the smiles on the kids' faces, it's amazing. Some of them don't even know who we are. They just know, ‘A basketball player is coming to see me and my family.'
"It's great to be able to make a difference in their lives."