The line outside Time Warner Cable Arena Tuesday morning begins long before the Charlotte Bobcats open the doors at 9 a.m.
One thousand low-income families selected by Second Harvest Food Bank of Metrolina and Crisis Assistance Ministry received vouchers for a Thanksgiving dinner for four from the Bobcats and their partners.
Team executives, coaches and players stand behind tables and distribute food. Among them is point guard Ramon Sessions. When Sessions was growing up in Myrtle Beach, he was on the other side of the table.
“People might look at us as successful but we’re the same as they are,” he says, a frozen turkey in his right hand. “I grew up the same way and came to events like this. So anytime I get to do stuff like this it just brings chills to me because I remember those days.”
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Sessions sponsored his own third annual turkey giveaway Sunday in the Racepath community in Myrtle Beach. He gave away 225 turkeys. Next Thanksgiving he wants to incorporate some of what the Bobcats do and make the giveaway bigger.
A good point guard ought to be selfless.
Men and women and young people and old people and babies and kids pick up a bag at the table behind which Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Jeffery Taylor stand.
They add corn at the table handled by Jeff Adrien and James Southerland.
They pick up yams from Kemba Walker, associate head coach Patrick Ewing and president and COO Fred Whitfield. Whitfield pulls rank; yams are his favorite part of the Thanksgiving dinner. Blueberry pie, in case you were wondering, is Sessions’.
Whitfield shakes hands, asks questions and answers them.
“This is probably the most fun day of the year for me,” he says.
Al Jefferson hands out mashed potatoes, president of basketball operations Rod Higgins and coach Steve Clifford hand out cranberry sauce. Assistant coaches Bob Weiss and Mark Price hand out macaroni and cheese.
Jannero Pargo, Ben Gordon and assistant coach Stephen Silas hand out stuffing.
Also behind the table is general manager Rich Cho, known for his appreciation of fine food.
What’s your favorite Thanksgiving dish? You know he’ll name something exotic -- duck or oysters or duck stuffed with oysters.
“The skin on the turkey,” Cho says.
Rookie Cody Zeller offers Sprite. Finally, Gerald Henderson and Sessions distribute turkeys.
U2’s “It’s a Beautiful Day” plays in the background, and Ewing dances. Ewing dances to almost everything, shaking hands, talking. This is his first season with the team and he introduces himself to Charlotte.
When Jefferson is not holding mashed potatoes he’s holding one to three babies. Sessions poses for a picture with eight-month-old Vanicia Carter.
Up and down the line the team and the customers mingle. Jokes are told, pictures taken and autographs signed.
Laconya Hightower accepts a turkey from Henderson before walking into the rain.
Do you have a favorite player?
“I just moved from Philadelphia, so I don’t really know them,” Hightower says. “But they’re all cute.”
Bismack Biyombo and Matt Carroll carry bags for the folks who struggle with them. Carroll, who played for the Bobcats from 2005-09 and 2010-12, was a player the Bobcats wanted in their locker room. Now that he’s finished playing, they want him in their locker room and their front office. They hired him for a job they have yet to figure out.
Carroll carries bags outside to a car and I hold the door for him when he returns from the drizzle.
“Sometimes you get caught up in this life and this work and this business,” he says. “This is just a way to kind of bring you back to reality. As a player you know what’s going on but you’re so wrapped up in everything. As a non-player you step back and kind of look at it and it’s even more special. You just kind of understand it a little bit more.”
Many athletes in Charlotte invest money and time in the community, often quietly. Steve Smith, Thomas Davis, Cam Newton and Greg Olsen of the Carolina Panthers do. Drivers and race teams do. Basketball players do.
“It’s just a chance to give back,” Sessions says as he leaves the table and walks to the court for practice. “You see so many smiles.”