For the kids at Children’s Medical Center in Dallas, Santa Claus seems like he’s had a bit of a growth spurt.
That’s because their Santa just happens to be Dallas Maverick’s 7-foot-tall power forward Dirk Nowitzki. For more than a decade, Nowitzki has made it a tradition to visit a local children’s hospital around the holidays.
“This is always my favorite appearance of the year,” Nowitzki, 38, told the Dallas Morning News.
Each year, the hospital identifies 15-20 longtime patients for Nowitzki to visit – along with a list of gift ideas from their parents, ESPN reports.
Nowitzki pays out of pocket to ensure every kids he meets gets the gift they’ve been dreaming of; but by far the greatest thrill the kids experience is meeting the Dallas sports legend.
“Kids go absolutely crazy for him,” Mavs Vice President of Marketing and Communications Lesley Berry told ESPN. “We’ve seen parents cry. We’ve seen everything. They’re just in shock, because he doesn’t just come in and say, ‘Merry Christmas! Here’s a gift.’ He goes in there and he’s spending tons of time.”
Nowitzki has always made these appearances without the press, except for Dallas Mavs’ photographer, Danny Bollinger, who mostly shoots keepsakes for the families the NBA star visits.
Until this year, when the Dallas Morning News accompanied Nowitzki on his visit, the closest thing there has ever been to publicity of the event is a YouTube video posted by a patient’s mom in 2012.
In the video, Nowitzki challenges a young patient named Will to a game of one-on-one. “Oh, gosh,” Will says when faced with the sight of 7-foot-tall Nowitzki guarding the hoop.
Nowitzki finds a way to engage each child he visits – whether its playing the guitar, coloring or challenging them to a board game.
“He has the ability to connect with kids on every level, whether they are a toddler or school-age kid or teenager,” Thresa Belcher, Children’s hospital’s director of child life and social work told the News. “It’s quite amazing.”