PHILADELPHIA – Back in the summertime, Jalen Brunson was visiting his mother in the New Jersey suburbs just across the river from Philadelphia.
They were trying to decide what kind of charitable effort Brunson would support in his adopted home community.
And he didn’t want it to be a token gesture.
“It’s very easy to write a check in his capacity,” said Sandra Brunson, Jalen’s mom.
But the Mavericks’ point guard has reached this successful point in his life largely because he’s never been a fan of taking the easy way out.
That’s what led Brunson, his mother and father, coach Rick Carlisle and teammate Dwight Powell to Covenant House of Pennsylvania in the Germantown district of Philadelphia on Thursday night.
Brunson and his family sponsored the 20th annual Christmas dinner at the facility that houses more than 600 vulnerable kids a year. These are kids that are homeless, runaways or trafficked.
This was their Christmas, complete with Santa Claus, presents and a meal with all the trimmings.
“Ever since Jalen was drafted by the Mavericks, we were always thinking that no matter where he would go, he would give back,” Sandra Brunson said. “And it was very important to him to somehow stay connected with the Pennsylvania area and New Jersey. But we need to go and really see and understand. We took a tour and what we learned about the community and what they do here, we were blown away.
“And it was a no-brainer. When we left, he said: mom, I want to give to that organization. So we worked with it and when the schedule came out, it just worked.”
The Mavericks play the Sixers at Wells Fargo Center about 20 miles away from Germantown in South Philadelphia on Friday night. Their only visit of the season to Philly could not have come at a better time for Brunson to spread his cheer.
On Thursday night after the long flight from Dallas to Philly, Brunson helped lots of kids feel like family, even though they have none.
“It’s pretty special to be able to do that, kind of semi-where I’m from,” said Brunson, who spent much of his childhood in the Chicago area but went to college at Villanova. “It means a lot to be able to do it with my family and a couple of friends. And to have coach and Dwight come out and support and talk to the kids, too – especially around this time of year. I’m kind of at a loss of words.”
The kids spent about an hour mingling and asking questions of the Mavericks. Rick Brunson, a nine-year NBA veteran and Jalen’s father, said he had great respect for the Mavericks being able to visit Covenant House.
“His mother and him do a real good job of trying to give back,” Rick Brunson said. “We have things in Dallas and I think it’s important for him to do things in Philadelphia because of Villanova. And he also does things on his own in Chicago.
“He wasn’t particularly happy with the way things went (against Boston on Wednesday), so for him to come in and be excited and smile, it says a lot about him. And Dwight and coach, they don’t have to do this. They had a ballgame last night and a game tomorrow.”
But both knew it was important to support Brunson. And it was no small commitment on his behalf. He had to contribute thousands of dollars to make the event happen.
“It’s amazing, Jalen and his family sponsored the whole night,” said Hugh Organ, the executive director of Covenant House in Philadelphia. “For a lot of these kids, this is Christmas. The gifts they’ll receive, this is pretty much it. And for a lot of these kids, they’ve been on the streets and the first time they celebrate a Christmas is when they’re here. They’ve told me it’s literally the first Christmas they’ve had.”
“To have people like Jalen here to show these kids that people care about them truly boosts their spirits. The holidays are about family. And these kids will spend Christmas in a homeless shelter.”
But for one night, things were a little brighter and the proud Brunson family could smile knowing that they made Christmas a true holiday for a lot of kids.
“I try to do as much as I can,” Jalen Brunson said. “I know if I start early in my career, it’ll be habit. And I’m trying to make this habit.”