by Cody Cunningham


Nearing the end of a challenging year, players took to the community to spread holiday cheer

This year has been a struggle for people throughout The Valley, across the country and around the world. Gatherings have been limited, financial circumstances have made it difficult to celebrate, and too many families are faced with an empty seat or two at the dinner table.

Despite the pandemic and quick turnaround for the start of the 2020-21 season, the Phoenix Suns have spent the past week giving back to the community that has supported them for the past 52 years.

Through a variety of holiday-season initiatives, the team that led the NBA in assists per game last season collaborated with local charities and organizations to make this time of year a little brighter for Valley residents. 

Devin Booker: Special Olympics Arizona Surprise 

Since he was drafted in 2015, Devin Booker said his on-court motivation is “being able to be an impact on other people’s lives.” But the All-Star continues to make a difference off the court. 

Special Olympics Arizona has been forced to cancel over 600 events this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Though so many have not been able to participate in their beloved organization in recent months, one surprise helped spark some holiday joy.

Five athletes entered the Special Olympics Arizona facility in Goodyear without knowledge of what was to come. There, they each found a signed basketball and a Finish Line gift card with a Nike jumpsuit on the way.

The smiles that the gifts produced grew wider and the cheering began when Booker appeared virtually via Zoom. The Suns guard shared a heartwarming greeting with the athletes as they took turns asking him questions about shoes, playing against the NBA’s elite and his own personal motivations. 

Booker was honored earlier this year when he was announced as a Special Olympics Global Ambassador. His charitable outreach and benevolence can be attributed to his family and, more specifically, his younger sister Mya, who was born with 22q11.2 deletion syndrome, also known as DiGeorge syndrome. Due to his unbreakable bond with his sister and his every-continuing push for equality in the world, the Special Olympics has always been near and dear to Booker’s heart. 

“It's so special,” President and CEO of Special Olympics Jamie Heckerman said. “Devin has been so supportive of Special Olympics Arizona and all that we do. Being able to just share some of that energy and excitement for the holiday season, especially during this year that has been so crazy, it's been really great.”

Deandre Ayton: YMCA Delivery

Founded 37 years ago, the Chris-Town YMCA has a rich history serving the Phoenix community with after-school programs and activities focused on promoting health and well-being through sports and physical activity. However, the pandemic has placed a strain on many members and their families who are struggling through difficult times and could use a sigh of relief.

That moment of ease arrived last week when Suns big man Deandre Ayton set up a special surprise for 40 children of the YMCA. In partnership with Phoenix Suns Charities and Puma, Ayton provided the children with shoes, socks, backpacks, basketballs and additional Suns swag to brighten up the holiday season.

Jason Heetland, Associate Vice President of Operations for the Valley of the Sun YMCA, has witnessed these children have so much taken away from them this year and understands that this surprise “means the world to them.”

“To have the support of Puma, Deandre Ayton and the Suns means the world to the Y,” Heetland said. “We're here for the community and we can't do it without our partners. Deandre and the Suns and Puma are great partners for us. They help us serve our community and these kids need the support.”

Suns Virtual Banner Health Visit 

Visiting children’s hospitals has become a staple throughout the years during the Suns’ season of giving. Providing smiles, memorable experiences and a distraction from hardships leaves a heartwarming feeling for players and patients alike.

This year’s pandemic has placed the children at Banner Thunderbird Medical Center at a higher risk, leaving many of them with limited visitors and a secluded holiday season.

Mikal Bridges, Jevon Carter, Langston Galloway, Cam Johnson, Damian Jones, E’Twaun Moore and Jalen Smith wanted to bring a sense of normalcy to a rather unprecedented circumstance.

With laptops set up throughout the Verizon 5G Performance Center, the Suns set up virtual visits to jump between rooms, connect with the patients and form memories that will last a lifetime. Whether talking about basketball, TV shows or toys that the children received, the Suns bonded with the children while creating an overall uplifting experience.

In addition to the time spent with the members of the team, each child received the first autographed basketballs by the entire 2020-21 Suns roster.

“It was great to see the kids' faces light up when they were talking about what they wanted for Christmas, or just giving them something to be excited about,” Johnson said. “That's what makes it worth it, you know? I'm glad we had the chance to do that.

“I'm glad they had the chance to show us those smiles because they're real nice kids. It's important to us to touch the community. It's important to us to be active and I'm looking forward to doing it in person again next year.” 

Cameron Payne: Lending a Hand

Suns Charities, guard Cameron Payne and United Phoenix Firefighters Charities also teamed up to assist a Valley family that was evicted from their apartment over Thanksgiving. They helped the Cisneroz family secure a new place to live, including funding two months of rent, and provided Christmas presents for Bobby's and Rosa's nine children.

Read more about their unforgettable day here


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