Los Angeles — Before the Los Angeles Lakers hopped on a plane to Orlando on Friday, Kyle Kuzma, Moe Wagner and Josh Hart — in partnership with East West Bank — served Thanksgiving dinner for nearly 250 guest from L.A. community organizations at the Frank Hotchkin’s Memorial Training Center in downtown Los Angeles.
The carnival-themed event was filled with kids stuffing their faces with Thanksgiving food courtesy of Lucille’s Smokehouse Bar-B-Que and shouting “Where’s LeBron?” to the Lakers that were there.
“At his house, I think,” Hart said to one kid.
But while James may not have been in attendance, the event was still packed with mentors, mentees and kids from the community, as well as members of the Los Angeles Fire Department, who have been tirelessly working to contain the catastrophic California Camp Fire over the past week.
Hart, who did everything from competing in a Pop-A-Shot contest with kids to handing out food, said that volunteering his time is the least he can do for the leaders of the community and first responders.
“We’re here just giving back, Hart said. “We’ve got members of the LAFD that helped fight some of these fires so it’s kind of an opportunity to give them a day off.”
It was also an opportunity for Hart so spend some time with his teammates off the court, even if Hart joked that he could have done the event without them.
“I don’t like them,” Hart said. “I don’t like them guys. Me and Moe Wagner are not on speaking terms because Michigan beat Villanova yesterday very badly ... and then Kuz over here, Kuz is Kuz.”
In his young NBA career, Kuzma has built a reputation for being a leader in his hometown of Flint, Michigan and he said he hopes to one day give back to his new community in Los Angeles the same way.
“I just want to help others,” Kuzma said. “I do a lot of work in Flint, my hometown, and I want to eventually do as much as I do in Flint in L.A. as well. It’s all just about giving back, paying it forward. When people see me give back, they’ll give back and it will make the world better.”
Kuzma is especially fond of helping children in his community. In August, the 23-year-old donated 300 backpacks filled with school supplies at his first-ever basketball camp.
“Just being around kids is my favorite. Just seeing their reaction when they see people they look up to, or just tall people in general. It’s alway fun to see them and watch them interact,” Kuzma said.
Kuzma and the Lakers will spend their Thanksgiving in Los Angeles again this year. Kuzma doesn’t know what he’s doing yet, but knows he’s not eating turkey.
“No turkey,” Kuzma said. “I don’t like turkey. Turkey is disgusting ... it’s too dry for me.”
Ironically, the Lakers assigned him to the turkey station when he was handing out food.
Wagner, a native of Germany, didn’t grow up celebrating Thanksgiving but he said he immediately became a big fan of it when he had his first thanksgiving dinner over three years ago, particularly the food.
“I got accustomed to it pretty quickly, believe me,” the growing, 6’11 big man said. “I like the tradition a lot. I like the food because you eat Thanksgiving food for like two weeks, so I like it a lot and it’s something to get used to, for sure.”
Unlike Kuzma, Wagner is a fan of all thanksgiving foods, but pumpkin pie is his favorite.
Hart is having friends and family over for a Thanksgiving dinner, but he said he won’t go anywhere near a stove that night.
“No,” Hart said of cooking on Thanksgiving. “My dad is a chef so I’m going to have him cook some things, and then some company caters so he doesn’t have to cook everything and he can kind of relax, but there will be a little bit of both.
“I’m not cooking at all, though.”
Before they put on their best pair of stretchy sweats and pig out, the Lakers will hit the road for their longest road trip of the season so far, with stops in Orlando, Miami and finally Cleveland on Wednesday. The Lakers have won six of their last seven games, including their last four.
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