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Basketball legend hands out Thanksgiving meals and apparel in two Port City stops
WILMINGTON — The shrieks of delight pierced the Community Boys and Girls Club on Nixon Street Tuesday afternoon as basketball legend and Wilmington native Michael Jordan surprised the kids with a visit complete with gifts of shoes and clothing.
“Wow!” “Oh my God!” “Is that really him?” were among the chorus of shouts from the roughly 100 children at the center, which was damaged by Hurricane Florence and, in addition to Jordan’s visit, received a $100,000 donation from Lowe’s Home Improvement.
Jordan made the surprise visit, along with another at the Lowe’s store on South College Road where the NBA hall-of-famer served Thanksgiving meals, to help with relief efforts from Hurricane Florence, which ravaged the Wilmington region in September.
“This is my way of helping out. I’m from here,” Jordan said in an interview at the Boys and Girls Club. “This is where I learned how to play the game of basketball. Being in the position that I am, to give back and help people deal with some of the struggles they have to deal with and just to try to ignite everyone else’s support.”
Jordan, widely considered one of the greatest basketball players in history, moved to Wilmington with his family as a small child and graduated from Laney High School in 1981. He then starred at the University of North Carolina before his spectacular career in the NBA with the Chicago Bulls and Washington Wizards.
He is now the owner of the Charlotte Hornets NBA franchise.
His visit follows donations of $1 million each Jordan made to the American Red Cross and Foundation for the Carolinas’ Hurricane Florence Response Fund.
“I wanted to come back and see the city and see how things had progressed and see how things had been damaged,” Jordan said. “It’s a long road back. We know that.”
Mary Whitehead, who had come to the Lowe’s for the Thanksgiving meal, was stunned to see Jordan handing the meals out.
“No, I didn’t expect to see Michael (Jordan). I’m shivering right now,” she said. “I stopped paying attention to basketball as soon as Michael quit playing. I can’t believe I’m seeing him now.”
Jordan said he believed his home city would recover from the storm in strong fashion.
“I think the spirits of Wilmingtonians are really strong. Obviously, I’m one of them so I felt the need to come back and support them,” he said.
Jordan said he hoped his visit and donation of apparel helped make Tuesday a better day for the kids at the Boys and Girls Club, where he said he began playing basketball.
“They teach you a lot about education and life here at the Boys and Girls Club,” he said. “If I can bring a smile to their faces, especially during this time, I’m willing to do that without a doubt.”
Stacey Ryan, president of the Lowe’s southern region, said the hardware superstore chain felt a responsibility to give back to the Wilmington region.
“Hurricane Florence impacted many of the communities Lowe’s is in,” she said while handing out holiday meals and gift bags to the kids at the Boys and Girls Club. “It’s our role to give back. The holiday season really brings that top of mind.”
Deral Pitts, CEO of the Boys and Girls Club, said the organization plans to use the money to make needed repairs at its three Wilmington facilities.
“It’s an awesome gesture of compassion and care for the community,” he said of the donation and of Jordan’s visit. “It was amazing.”
Reporter Tim Buckland can be reached at 910-343-2217 or Tim.Buckland@StarNewsOnline.com.
Reporter Jackson Fuller contributed to this report.