By Alex Byington

Fort Hood Herald

Although they had no illusions of being a cure-all, former NBA greats Otis Birdsong and Wali Jones did their part to help those too young to understand the magnitude of Thursday's shooting rampage by putting on a free basketball clinic for area children and teenagers.

"We're honored to be here just to see these kids happy today," Jones said. "It meant so much to see them happy and having fun, but also to see the parents get away from everything.

"It's still here, it's just two days away from this tragedy, but we can ... interact with them, emotionally uplift them, and that's why we're here," Jones continued.

Joined by fellow former NBA player Steven Howard and several members of Fort Hood's Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation, Birdsong and Jones were instructors at the free Champions 4 Champions basketball clinic Saturday at the Abrams Physical Fitness Center.

"They're just out here having fun and that's what we're trying to do and keep it as normal as possible," said Vickie Jackson, facility director at the Comanche Youth Center.

With a gym full of more than 60 rambunctious elementary and middle school children, the two NBA legends commanded respect as they roamed throughout the room, instructing the eager students on the fundamentals of basketball.

For the students - most of whom had no firsthand knowledge of who Birdsong or Jones were - their enjoyment was visible, thanks to the ear-to-ear smiles that sparkled on each and every child.

Broken up into two segments - a morning session for kids ages 7-12 and an afternoon session for teenagers 13-17 - there were several drills that promoted ball handling, passing and overall teamwork all the while teaching good sportsmanship and becoming a better person.

The event, presented by Fort Hood Child, Youth and School Services, was preceded by a meet-and-greet with the legends on Friday at the High Chaparral Youth Center.

"Our objective has been troop morale, and now we've taken on the initiative of (first lady) Michelle Obama and Mrs. (Jill) Biden about family morale, and unfortunately this horrific thing happened ... but with the timing, we should be here for the emotions of the kids and parents and to uplift them and let them know that (we) are here to support them," Jones said. "And we believe that they need to hear that."

Jones, of Philadelphia, was part of the 1960s Philadelphia 76ers teams that featured NBA Hall of Fame center Wilt Chamberlain along with fellow greats Hal Greer, Chet Walker and Billy Cunningham.

Birdsong, a former All-American at the University of Houston, made his mark during a 12-year NBA career as part of the Kansas City Kings, New Jersey Nets, and the Boston Celtics throughout the 1980s.

Contact Alex Byington at or at (254) 501-7566.

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