Ray Allen

Ray Allen poses for a photo with three children from the Boston Medical Center.

Much the same way that life as a Boston Celtic isn't always about basketball, life as a patient at Boston Medical Center isn't always about difficult situations and bad news.

Those two statements came to life as one this afternoon at Dick's Last Resort in Faneuil Hall, as Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and a list of Celtics players, coaches and employees had an afternoon of smiles with families from the Boston Medical Center's Pediatric Hematology Program.

Everyone has seen the NBA Cares commercial spots, and if you could have been present today, you would understand how mutual -- between the players and the families -- that caring really is.

As the children and their families polished off their dinners, had their faces painted and played with balloons provided by a slew of clowns, the Celtics began to trickle in one by one.

First, it was Tony Allen. Then it was Doc Rivers. Then Ray Allen. The list went on and on, and within 15 minutes, nine players and coaches were mingling with the children, signing autographs and playing games.

Brian Scalabrine and Tony Allen, for example, were sitting at tables on completely opposite ends of the restaurant, unaware of what each other were doing. Yet both were deeply entrenched in games of Jenga with their respective tables, anxiously watching each and every move and waiting for the moment to happen. TA's came first, as one of his newfound buddies made a risky move, resulting in the tower of small wooden blocks collapsing to the table. "Jenga!" screamed Allen, with a smile as wide as any in the room.

These players and coaches were enjoying their time just as much as the children and families were, and that's saying a lot.

"All the smiles on these kids' faces," said Assistant Coach Kevin Eastman, who was quietly taking in the scene from a spot that happened to fall right between Mr. and Mrs. Santa Claus (to his right) and the families mingling with the players (to his left). "Wow... it is worth it."

Soon enough, it was time for a little humor in the building. Lester Hudson took a little hazing and might have learned a little lesson in the process -- have some confidence in your performance skills and you'll be fine.

Doc Rivers called Hudson out of the crowd and instructed him to move to the front of the room to sing some Christmas carols. He made his way up, began singing "Santa Claus is Coming to Town," and the unstoppable laugther from Rivers would tell you how well that rendition went.

Hudson then sang another song, this time "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," but only after Rasheed Wallace razzed him by yelling out, "And can we get all the words this time?!"

It was the rookie's first holiday karaoke experience in front of hundreds of strangers, so he naturally lacked some confidence. That's when the vets stepped in and showed him how to really get the place rockin'.

Wallace and Allen popped up front and nailed their duet of "Jingle Bells," leaving the entire restaurant clapping to a rhythmic beat, singing, laughing and enjoying the experience. Then the captain, Pierce, traded in his green and white baseball cap for a Santa hat and proceeded to rock the mic with Scalabrine and Shelden Williams.

There wasn't a single person in the building who didn't have a smile on their face. This is what the holidays are about.

"When we can get out here and go out in the community and put some smiles on some faces, that's what it's all about," Pierce said. "My whole thing about being a role model, being a Celtic, it's about giving back to the community and that's what we're trying to do here today."

The players and coaches gave plenty of smiles, and after the holiday singing performance they put on, each and every child was able to get a picture with the players and Santa Claus, as well as receive gifts like signed basketballs and wrapped up presents.

But this day wasn't all about the tangible things these children received. As Dr. Philippa Sprinz noted, the rest is what really counted.

"It's not just (the players') time -- it's their emotion, it's their aura, their karma -- that these kids are getting. And I know that they will go home and think about this for a long time to come," she said.

"I think it makes a connection with very real people. These are individuals and the team that these kids know so much about, and for these kids to have this connection with people who, otherwise they only see on the television or hear about, becomes a very real experience for them and a real memory."

The holiday season is all about giving, and today, two groups of people from distinctively different situations came together to create those memories Dr. Sprinz spoke about. As the age brackets of the children taking pictures with the players and receiving gifts rose higher and higher, they became more and more reluctant to sit on Santa's lap for the group photo. But while that minor detail may have been changing, they, along with everyone else at Dick's, were just as willing to give a huge holiday smile. Smiles they'll remember forever.