[Editor’s Note: Photos of Josh featured in this story with the children in person were taken at various TAPS events in previous years]
“I used to go to work with him sometimes and I’d sleep over at the station,” Richardson said. “Just being able to meet those guys and be around and see the things they do is really crazy. I’ve seen some car accidents that are crazy. A lot of people don’t realize what all firemen do. It’s not just putting out fires.”
While his father worked late nights, Alice would hold down the fort back at home. She did her part to keep Josh and his sister, Alex, humbled and focused. The military-style discipline taught the children to work hard, but there was plenty of time for fun and laughter, too.
Alice also coached basketball and was a referee. She eventually retired after 25 years in the military as a lieutenant colonel with the U.S. Air Force reserves. Alice later became an ordained Baptist minister and Josh’s trainer.
Meanwhile, Josh had an array of talents including playing the classical piano as a child, something he still does.
Most of all, the Richardson family believed in serving and giving back to others. It’s a lesson that has continued to follow Josh through college and the NBA.
“You never know when it’s going to be gone,” Richardson said, “and that’s part of the reason I started working with this organization.”
The organization is called TAPS (Tragedy Assistance Program For Survivors), and Saturday night via Zoom, Richardson surprised 20 children with presents and special gifts to bring the youngsters some holiday cheer. TAPS is designed to help families grieving the loss of loved ones who died while serving in the Armed Forces.
Each year, Richardson works with the organization to provide meaningful surprises for the youth.
Richardson is a Reebok athlete and gifted each child with new shoes among a box full of games and other goodies. Even through a virtual party, the excitement of the children exploded through the screen.
“Thank you, thank you so much,” one family with four children shouted.
Over the next hour, Richardson spent time with all the children and they each talked about their family member that passed away. Most of the children lost their fathers serving in the military, but they glowed as they talked about their fallen hero.
Among the children included the four young kids of fallen hero, Eric Compton.
Compton graduated from Grapevine High School and eventually joined the United States Marine Corps with tours of duty during Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. He was an active service member for 16 years until his passing in July 2019. Compton left behind three young boys and one daughter, all who proudly wore their Mavericks shirts as they told Richardson about their father and proudly said his name.
There were many other children on the call with similar losses of a loved one. Richardson intently listened to every person and gave them a platform to tell their story.
He was sincere, appreciative and truly honored to have the children’s trust. He’s also the first to admit that he can’t begin to understand what the kids have endured after losing a loved one, but he is thankful that as a military child himself, they do hold and carry a special bond.
“To sit down with these kids (over the years) is humbling,” Richardson said. “They are telling me their father passed and they are like seven years old. It’s unimaginable for any kid to go through that at that age. To be able to see these kids still having fun is very rewarding.
“I just wish more people knew about (their experiences) because it’s tough. I feel like this is something that people would never know if they didn’t get to talk to the kids. So just being able to learn some of the stories is just a huge help for me.”
He said that the gifts can never make up for the loss of loved ones, but he feels a tremendous amount of respect for the families. Richardson added that the holidays tend to be especially hard on families coping with the loss of loved ones.
“Thank you guys for having me,” said Richardson, while donning a blue Santa hat. “I’m always thinking about you and it’s not taken lightly, how strong you kids are and how strong your families are. So I just want you to know that someone out there is thinking of you and I hope you have a Merry Christmas this year.”
‘THEY SEE A MILITARY KID’
Diana Hosford has been with TAPS since 2013 and created a program that would allow TAPS to create meaningful opportunities for the families of the fallen through sports. This led to the partnerships with athletes like Richardson.
“The TAPS children find connection with other grieved military kids,” Hosford shared. “A lot of children who have lost a loved one in the military might go to school with a bunch of kids who haven’t had that experience, but when they come to TAPS they find their tribe, so to speak.”
Hosford said it’s also vital to have athletes with a military background, like Josh, because they’re able to connect with children on a closer level.
“As you saw on that call, Josh’s mom is just as much as a celebrity as Josh is,” Hosford said, referring to the numerous questions the children asked Richardson about his mother and her time of service.
“We see that because they look at Josh and they think ‘amazing NBA player, phenomenal athlete’ but even more, they see a military kid. He grew up having a mom in the service, just like them. So the connection that someone like Josh can make with the kids also empowers them and makes them feel excited and happy. Josh takes the time to celebrate the life and service with those kids and gives them time to smile and be joyful.”
Hosford said Richardson could “touch the hearts and hold the hands of anyone in this country and he chose TAPS and these families.”
At the end of the virtual holiday party with the children and families, she asked Richardson to explain to the families why he wanted to surprise them this Christmas with a special party dedicated to them and their loved ones.
“My mother was in the military for 25 years and I grew up going to the Air Force base a lot and being around all that,” Richardson said. “I think this organization is doing a lot of good things for family members that have made the ultimate sacrifice and it’s very close to my heart, and I’m touched by the kids that have gone through these things at a young age.
“I just think that anyone that I can help and bring happiness and joy to their lives is an opportunity I and anyone else should jump at.”
Story: Tamara Jolee, Dallas Mavericks
To learn more about the outstanding work with the Tragedy Assistance Program For Survivors (TAPS), click here for additional information.