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September 24, 2017

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NBA players pass their love to Taiwan

A group of children affected by Typhoon Morakot recently got a break and a relaxing afternoon with world-famous National Basketball Association (NBA) superstars. The Indiana Pacers and the Denver Nuggets landed in Taiwan for an exhibition game on Oct. 8; Taipei is the 8th Asian city to host an NBA exhibition or regular season game. The teams will bounce to Beijing, China today.

Players from the Indiana Pacers and NBA executives then coached the children at a basketball clinic, a joint program of NBA Cares, the league's charity program, and World Vision Taiwan (WVT). The activity was part of the Christian humanitarian group's typhoon disaster relief efforts. WVT hoped spending a day with sports idols could help heal the kids' mental trauma from the storm.

"These kids need encouragement, care and love; this event is like a dream come true for them," said WVT Executive Director Hank Du while being surrounded by a group of children.

Kids were excited about the once-a-lifetime opportunity to play basketball with these "big brothers," added Du. One participating teenager said he enjoyed the event and was excited to see the exhibition game. He plays on his junior high school basketball team and dreams of becoming a professional player someday.

Bruce Bowen, a three-time champion with the San Antonio Spurs and a top defender, expressed confidence in the kids' skills on the court. He shot hoops with the children, and said that the young players had so much potential.

Asked how it felt to play with the kids, Bowen said, "It's great! Whenever you see the kids' reactions, when they see you, they are like 'wow!' I wish I could've had that when I was a kid, so if I can help out other kids to do that, it's a plus," the recently retired player told The China Post.

"NBA Cares is a great program, reaching out to all of the kids in the world, so I'm very fortunate to be able to be a part of it," he added.

The hard-nosed defender is heavily involved in charities; he set up a foundation that provides disadvantaged kids in the U.S. with more academic opportunities. He is also an activist against child obesity. Striving to keep kids active, and to encourage them to eat more veggies and fruits, Bowen proudly spoke about his "Get Fit with Bruce & Buddy" program, which is designed to combat kids' obesity, diabetes and other difficulties.

Legendary Boston Celtics star Larry Bird, who now serves as the Pacers' President of Basketball Operations, also attended the event. Talking about the league's involvement in charities, Bird said, "the more we do, the better it is for our games, and I'm very proud of what our players and our league stand for."

Bowen, Pacers forward Danny Granger, and guard T. J. Ford sat down with the children and shared their experiences of facing difficulties after playing basketball. They told the kids that whatever happened, "you have to believe in yourself."

The NBA players also invited the children to the Oct. 8 exhibition game at Taipei Arena and the announcer recognized each child by name before the game. A public service announcement that encouraged people to donate to Morakot relief funds, featuring Granger, Nuggets' guard Chauncey Billups and NBA Greater China CEO Tim Chen, debuted at the game. The ad will then be aired throughout Taiwan. As a final point, NBA officials and Taipei's EasyCard Corp. presented a NT$4 million check for WVT's relief work.

For Granger, who called himself and his teammates "big kids at heart," playing ball with the youngsters was a lot of fun. His closing message to the kids was: "There's a brighter day tomorrow."

But the "big kids" were also excited about sightseeing after the event, Granger told reporters with a smile. He told The China Post that he would definitely visit Taiwan again, maybe with NBA Cares. "I'm up for anything!" Bowen said.

"We will never forget this event," added Du. "This is a story of love and growing up."

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