DALLAS – The annual Dallas Mavericks children’s hospital visit might have been forced online this year, but Mavs’ veterans Jalen Brunson and Maxi Kleber eagerly stepped up to the plate to bring some holiday cheer to young North Texas patients.
Wednesday afternoon the duo gathered on screen to greet kids at Scottish Rite Hospital for Children and the virtual meeting was filled with plenty of laughter, gifts and cheer.
Instead of holiday pajamas, the children were adorned in hospital gowns and most of them sat in wheelchairs, a scene that served as a humble reminder for Brunson. He said he felt an overwhelming sense of gratitude for the game of basketball and how it allows him to serve and love others.
“One thing basketball has taught me is to never take anything for granted,” Brunson shared with the young children. “Being able to play basketball, obviously, is a privilege and I never take that for granted.”
Both Brunson and Kleber leaned on their own experiences with injuries to help encourage the youth. They said basketball injuries don’t compare to what these children are experiencing, but they hope their words of hope can motivate the youngsters to stay positive during difficult times.
‘YOU HAVE TO KEEP PUSHING’
The journey to overcome injuries is a story that Kleber knows all too well. In fact, he almost gave up on his NBA dream because of the countless injuries he faced in Germany while chasing his basketball destiny.
Multiple injuries set him back during his rise in the professional ranks and he often felt the NBA was simply not meant to be.
Kleber said, however, that something within kept nudging him to push forward, even in the face of adversity. The mindset worked and now Kleber is set to start his fourth NBA season next week.
He offered the children this advice: “Sometimes it feels like a step back and things don’t go well, the rehab doesn’t go the way you want it. But just because of that, you can’t lose courage. You have to keep pushing.”
Kleber said he used the time during his injuries to read books and he also taught himself how to play instruments.
For Brunson, he explained to the youth how he just endured a tough season of his own, where he underwent surgery on his right shoulder and had to miss out on time with his teammates in the NBA bubble.
He said what helped him is to pay attention to every little detail on the path to recovery.
“Even the little things, you have to take care of,” Brunson gently explained. “It’s definitely not easy, but you guys are very strong-minded and strong-willed. You guys will get through everything.”
‘HAVE YOU EVER SEEN SANTA IN REAL LIFE?’
Mavericks’ play-by-play announcer Mark Followill moderated the discussion between the players and children and allowed the kids to ask any and every question imaginable.
One child asked the Mavs if they’ve ever seen Santa in real life?
“I was very close one time, but I just missed him,” Brunson said. “I was 12 and I was so close, but I just barely missed him. He was already gone and I was so upset.”
Another child asked the pair: “What’s the coolest basketball trick you ever did?”
Kleber had a simple answer: “Just making a basket,” he joked. “I’m not as cool as JB. He’s the guard, has the ball in his hands and does all these crazy tricks and crossovers. The coolest thing for me is when JB passes it to me and I can make an easy dunk.”
And speaking of dunks, Brunson emphatically told the children that he can dunk and once did in a basketball game.
“No one, including my teammates, think I can dunk, including Maxi,” Brunson passionately said. “Even if there’s proof.”
(Spoiler alert: there is proof. Click here to watch Brunson posterize a player while he was in college).
Food and candy was another favorite topic for the kids and players, alike.
Brunson and Kleber both agreed that ice cream is better than snow cones (Kleber admitted, however, that as a native of Germany, he’s not really sure what a snow cone might look like).
No questions were off limits and the players opened up about their lives. Brunson said he’s the proud new papa to his dog Kona, a pet that he adopted during the off-season and now has an Instagram account. You can follow Kona’s life and adventures here.
Meanwhile, Kleber was thrilled to announce that his brother and sister-in-law just had a new baby, so he became an uncle for the first time.
“That was pretty special,” he shared.
At the end of the call, the Mavericks surprised all the youngsters with gifts and goodies, the perfect ending to an event that brought everyone laughter and holiday cheer.
“When you find something you love, do it 110% every time you have the opportunity,” Brunson said. “When you find the people you love, make sure you cherish those moments every single time. Basketball has taught me a lot, but what it’s taught me the most is how to be a good teammate and to love one another.”