Williams treats vets to party SALT LAKE CITY ? Basketball got Deron Williams' full attention Saturday when the Utah Jazz picked up a thrilling win over the Los Angeles Lakers, and it will be his focus again tonight when the Minnesota Timberwolves visit EnergySolutions Arena. But on Sunday, the Jazz point guard took a timeout from his sport that's in season to help spread the spirit of another season. The holidays replaced hoops as his top priority as Williams threw his third-annual charity Christmas party, with this year's beneficiaries being military families who've gone through trauma and tragedy. This dinner party ? held at Fleming's Steakhouse at The Gateway ? was Williams' way of giving to people in a couple of groups that are near and dear to his heart. Having been raised by a single mom, Williams said he knows how tall of a task it can be for parents to go at it solo ? especially at this time of the year. Having a grandpa who served in World War II and an uncle who did a tour in the Gulf War, Williams also has a soft spot for those in the military. Williams invited and spent the evening with 17 Utah families ? 62 people in all ? who are experiencing those challenging circumstances. Some were single parents and kids who'd lost a spouse or parent in military action. Some were families with a military veteran parent who'd been wounded while at war. But they all had smiles on Sunday as they received a fancy meal and gifts for children from Williams, his family and his Point of Hope Foundation. "It means a lot," Williams said. Especially, he added, "seeing the kids have fun and be happy." And they certainly were jolly, thanks to the point guard who played the role of Kris Kringle ? minus the red-and-white outfit and big belly, of course. But Santa D-Will had some particularly helpful elves ? especially his wife, Amy ? who spent lots of time picking out all of the jackets, shoes, makeup, Star Wars toys, Barbie dolls, Legos and other gifts and goodies. "I didn't do the shopping ... I didn't have time. We've been busy this week, a lot of games," Williams said with a smile. "My wife was beat for about three days from doing the shopping and then trying to Christmas shop for our family as well." The shopping trips were much appreciated. Retired Staff Sgt. James Heddlesten of West Valley City used the word "grateful" on multiple occasions. "People reach out to the soldiers ? it speaks a lot," he said. "But I really appreciate that the family's invited." Heddlesten served two tours in Iraq and suffered lingering back and knee injuries from repeated blast exposure. His job ? called "route clearance" ? was to make the path safe for military vehicles by searching for hidden bombs. Six times, unfortunately, the bombs found him in 2007, leading to his medical retirement from the military in January. He's now a student, studying chemistry. Heddlesten's wife, Reanin, said the family's night with Williams was "nice" and "just shows a great deal of generosity." And their kids ? Callie, 12, and Gavin, 9 ? both thought meeting the NBA star was "cool." Layne Morris, who was a sergeant first class in the 19th Special Forces Group, was also able to bring his South Jordan family of five, thanks to Williams and the Army Wounded Warriors' program. Morris, the deputy city manager of West Valley City, was blinded in his right eye when he was struck by hand grenade shrapnel during a fire fight in Afghanistan in 2002. "It's a long, tough adjustment," Morris said. "Not just physically, but trying to get yourself back in civilian mode where you're not concerned about your personal security." Morris was touched by how Williams was reaching out. "I'm a huge Jazz fan as pretty much everyone is," he said. "But to meet him in person, that's pretty neat." What's "even neater," Morris said, is that a busy guy like Williams would volunteer to do this, sacrificing both money and family time. "For him to take the time out on a day off and to spend it like this," Morris said, "that's pretty humbling for me." Williams, now a father of three, also feels humbled thinking back to his mom years ago. That's why he invited single mothers the first two years this event was held. "I knew how hard it was for her come Christmastime, trying to make sure all the bills are paid and she tried to provide a good Christmas for us," he said. "... So I know how some of these parents feel." Williams extended the invitation to military families because he knows how difficult it is for them, too ? especially for those who have wounded veterans or whose loved one made the ultimate sacrifice for the country. "You know how sore of a subject that is to lose somebody in the war," he said. "Their lives have to go on, so we just want to provide the kids with a good Christmas, put smiles on their faces and have a good dinner." Jazz president Randy Rigby is thrilled his organization has a player who leads the charitable charge like Williams, whose foundation recently helped provide a Thanksgiving dinner for thousands of underprivileged people. "He's a great competitor on the floor," Rigby said. "But his commitment to give back to a community and to help those in need or those who've given so much for us as a country is very impressive. It shows the quality of the man." For Williams, it's about the quality of life he hopes to help others have. "I think we're in the position where we can give," he said. It's Williams' wish that when people see visible NBA players helping the community, it will spark more goodwill ? whether with donated time or money. Perhaps, Williams hopes, "people see us helping out, they'll want to join in to help out." e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
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