Glendale — A group of 25 kids from the Weingart East Los Angeles YMCA and their families were told to gather at the JCPenney at the Glendale Galleria for a Giving Spree and a surprise visit from a special guest. That’s all they were told.
Little did they know that they would be doing their shopping with none other than Kyle Kuzma of the Los Angeles Lakers.
Before hopping on a plane to Houston for a four-game road trip, Kuzma spent some time with a select group of kids from the Los Angeles area and helped them shop for the holidays. Each child was given a $100 gift card from JCPenney plus 20 percent off of their entire purchase.
While Kuzma wasn’t directly involved with organizing the event, he said that he wanted to be part of the experience and add whatever he could to make it a special holiday memory for the kids involved.
“It’s super cool,” Kuzma said. “A lot of these kids have never seen an NBA player up close so to see the smiles on their face — a lot of them looked shocked — it was awesome to see. I always like that. I get joy from seeing that.
“I just like to help people. I already do a lot in Flint but I want to do more in place I’ve always been in. Utah and here as well. It’s super important for me to give back to the community.”
Kuzma, who makes roughly $1.7 million annually, didn’t get a $100 gift card, but he said he would have bought some Levis and Vans if he did: “You can’t get that much from $100, but I would have left with a lot.”
Kuzma was a part of the YMCA of Greater Flint growing up and this time last year, he threw a party for the kids that are part of the ”Safe Places Program,” where he gave away gifts and made a donation to the facility.
This year, he helped a community equally in need of a holiday pick-me-up, according to Weingart East Los Angeles YMCA Director of Community Development Omar Torres.
“They’re incredibly excited to make their holidays a little merrier and we’re just incredibly grateful for the opportunity,” Torres said. “A lot of the community that we serve is under-resourced so any opportunities like this definitely ensure that we’re able to feel the general warmth of the holidays, which doesn’t always come to us.”
Torres said that community leaders like Kuzma and LeBron James are the reason he’s getting back into basketball.
“It’s hard to not to be a fan of the Lakers with LeBron James and folks like Kyle Kuzma on the team,” Torres said. “Just real champions of the community that really focus on making sure that they’re not only good on the court, but outside of the court as well, which is one of the things I appreciate. Them being here, present and out, showing their support. That’s something that we definitely need more of in our athletes.”
Kuzma also made a lasting impression on the kids involved. David Ruiz, one of the kids selected for the event, said seeing Kuzma give back to the community made him want to do the same when he’s able to.
“He definitely inspires me,” Ruiz said. “When I get older, I hope to be just like him and go around helping kids ... to see him walking around and offering to buy stuff as well, it honestly motivates me.”
Ruiz said he’s a big Lakers fans, but admitted his dad is a Clippers fan: “It causes conflict in the house,” he said.
Kuzma will spend his holidays doing the same thing he did last year: playing basketball. The Lakers will take on the No. 2 seed Golden State Warriors on Christmas Day.
The game is expected to draw millions of fans, and it’s safe to assume at least 25 new fans will be watching this year.
You can follow this author on Twitter at @RadRivas.