Magic Players Nikola Vucevic, Victor Oladipo, Solomon Jones and Tobias Harris Spread Holiday Cheer; Deliver Big Smiles to Kids at Florida Hospital for Children
By John Denton
December 20, 2013
ORLANDO -- Nikola Vucevic usually has an innate sense of his surroundings and his reactions are among the quickest on the Orlando Magic what with his record-setting rebounding abilities.
But on Friday at the Walt Disney Pavilion at Florida Hospital for Children, six-year-old Natanael Diffo had Vucevic stumped and briefly unaware of what to do.
With an assist from the 7-foot Vucevic, Natanael delightfully tore into a package and couldn’t wait to see what was inside. But when he realized it was a puzzle designed for a much older child, Natanael looked up at Vucevic, frowned and said he wanted something different.
“He opened it and told me he didn’t like it and I was like, ‘Uhhhhhh, what do I do?’ I told him, ‘OK, I’ll try to find you another one,’” said Vucevic, who went scurrying to the nearby Christmas tree for another gift. “We got him some walkie-talkies and he really liked those. I tried to convince him that the puzzle was a nice gift, but he still wanted something else. Those (walkie-talkies) made him smile.”
Vucevic and Magic teammates Victor Oladipo, Tobias Harris and Solomon Jones brought smiles to hundreds of kids’ faces on Friday as they passed out gifts, posed for pictures and signed autographs at Florida Hospital for Children. It is the 15th straight year that the Magic have sent players, Dancers and STUFF the Magic Mascot to Florida Hospital to brighten the spirits of children with gifts and smiles.
When Natanael heard that the Magic players were coming for a visit and to pass out gifts, he ran and danced around his room, said his mother, Juanita Arocho. Natanael, of Palm Bay, has been in the hospital for more than a week after having a dangerous cyst removed from his brain.
“When the nurse came into the room and said the Magic are coming to deliver gifts, he immediately smiled. And when they asked if wanted to see them, he said, ‘Yes!’” Arocho said. “This is just so perfect for Natanael and for me as well. I am a fanatic for the Magic, so it’s really wonderful what they are doing for us.”
Rookie Victor Oladipo was making the trip to the hospital for the first time and he said he was extremely humbled by seeing the smiles on the faces of children, some of whom have been in the hospital for weeks and months. Oladipo said the joy of giving reminded him the true meaning of Christmas.
“This is a blessing for me and I’m just thankful that I had an opportunity to come here today,” Oladipo said. “I’m just hopeful that what we’re doing can makes some of these kids smile and hopefully we can help change their lives.”
After the private ceremony for about a dozen children, Harris, Vucevic, Oladipo and Jones went to different floors of the hospital while pulling wagons full of Barbie dolls, puzzles, board games, Magic posters and autographed Magic pennants.
As Magic Community Ambassador Bo Outlaw playfully sung Christmas carols, Magic legend Nick Anderson sat with seven-year-old Jamel Hibbert and played video games together on his phone. Jamel, who lives in Orlando, is suffering from asthma, but he was all smiles and full of questions as he talked to Anderson – the first-ever draft pick by a Magic franchise celebrating its 25th anniversary season.
“He just told me that I looked like I could still play,” Anderson said with a laugh. “I like this man a lot! He doesn’t realize that I’m 45 years old and will turn 46 next month. And I have a son who is 25 years old.”
When Vucevic received a hug from Arocho for spending time with Natanael – and most importantly getting him a satisfactory gift – the Magic big man released a big smile himself. He delighted in knowing that he is now looked up to by children and said he wants to always set a good example for young fans.
“It’s so nice to know that kids look up to you. You try to do your best to make them happy and be a good example for them,” he said. “I know that me as a kid, I looked up to a lot of basketball players and I know how it feels to be on their side now. It’s just a lot of fun to play with the kids and interact with them. I just hope they’re out of (the hospital) soon.”