On Wednesday night, just minutes after arriving in Boston at the team’s hotel, Sixers guard Josh Richardson hopped in a car and made his way to Reebok Headquarters about 20 minutes east of Boston Commons.
Richardson was getting ready to surprise eight kids from TAPS (Tragedy Assistance Program For Survivors), designed to help families grieving the loss of loved ones who died while serving in our Armed Forces. What the kids didn’t know is that Richardson was gifting them a $500 shopping spree.
Decked out in the not-yet-released Reebok Answer Heart Over Hypes (which Richardson will also gift each kid), Richardson smiled from ear to ear as he stood up in front of the families, with sincerity.
“I’m really excited to meet everyone, talk with you guys and learn about you.”
He wasn’t kidding.
Over the next few hours, Richardson roamed the store, intimately interacting with each of the families, learning about their life stories.
There was Kensington Kirk, who lost her father, SGT Joshua Kirk, US Navy, on Oct. 3, 2009.
She took the dog tags of her father off her neck, and handed them to Richardson.
Photo credit: Serena Winters
There was eight-year-old, Lucca Hamel, who lost his father CPO Bryan Hamel, while serving in the US Navy just last year.
Lucca’s mom couldn’t believe how comfortable her son looked while talking to an NBA star.
“I’m going to be so cool, when I go to school, mom!” Lucca shouted out to his mom, Jenna. “I think I’m going to be definitely the luckiest kid in my grade.”
There were 16-year-olds Keegan Ollis and Joshua Harrington, who both lost their fathers while serving in the Army, PFC Nathaniel Ollis, and SGT Kyle Harrington, respectively.
Thirteen-year-old Loralei O’Brien lost her father, SPC Gregg O’Brien, Army, in May of 2014.
And yet her smile lit up the room when talking to Richardson, especially when making sure he approved of her new shoes.
“She got some purple and black shoes that are super fresh,” Richardson said with a smile.
There was 16-year-old Grace Walsh, who lost her sister, PFC Keely Ree Walsh, US Navy, and 12-year old Jarred Jarbeau, who lost his uncle, SGT Michael Weidermann, Army, on Oct. 31, 2006.
“I’m trying to empathize with kids and families, but it’s tough to do when you’ve never experienced any of it,” Richardson said of knowing that every kid has lost a family member very close to them. “It’s not just a parent, a girl in here lost her sister, and she’s in school to be a welder now. She’s going to be certified in three areas of welding! I can’t imagine losing a parent or a sibling, but these families are super strong. It’s hard to think about.”
There were also a couple of familiar faces. Richardson flew out 14-year-old Elijah Byrd, and his mom, Jessica, who have built a friendship with Josh this season through the Walk in My Shoes program.
“That’s my boy!” Richardson. “I figure if I’m going to do something I better bring them out too!”
Richardson also talked with each kid about their different interests. Kensington, for example, told Richardson that she was going to be dissecting a cows’ eyeball in her seventh grade class the following day! So Richardson, who started college as a pre-med student, told her about that one time he touched a brain in college.
“I remember when I was a kid, the few times that I got to meet college athletes in Oklahoma City, it was something you never forget. I’m trying to give these kids a cool experience,” Richardson said.
Photo credit: Serena Winters
After Richardson checked everyone out at the register (yes, Richardson also acted as the cashier!) Lucca ran over to Richardson one last time and held his hand high for a handshake.
“Josh, thank you so much for doing this.”
“Of course, lil bro. Of course.”
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