The JCPenney rep turned hype man was doing his best to get the kids excited. There were 50 of them, from the Decatur YMCA, crowded into the back of the Northlake Mall department store for a Christmas surprise Tuesday afternoon.
The children played along politely. When the man requested noise, they made it.
Then: the surprise.
From the back offices of the Customer Services Department, Atlanta Hawks center Dwight Howard appeared, wearing a sly smile and towering over the kids with his 6-foot-11 frame.
The children roared and clapped wildly.
Some just dropped their mouths open and looked up at Howard in amazement. Could it really be him?
Howard came to the store to help the children each spend a $100 gift card for Christmas.
Howard’s mere presence seemed to be something of a gift.
“You’re my favorite basketball player,” one boy blurted.
“How tall are you?” asked a girl.
“Why’d you leave Houston?” one brave boy asked the former Rocket.
Howard laughed and said he wanted to come home.
Howard is an Atlanta native who used to be a kid at the Y himself.
“All you guys are my little brothers and sisters,” he said.
He encouraged them to think not just of themselves while burning through the Christmas cash.
“Always remember giving is better than receiving,” he said.
So 16-year-old Zyreia Larry eyed a jean jacket for her grandmother.
Samya Henderson, 11, thought about what her mom would like this year.
The kids were also encouraged to get something for themselves. Howard hammed a bit while helping girls pick out shoes.
He kidded them that they were hard to shop for.
Zemetrick Larry, 14, is literally hard to shop for. He’s 6-foot-3 and is naturally under served by the inventory of most department stores.
Howard asked Larry’s mom for their contact info. Maybe they could find the boy something for Zemetrick.
“This is really great,” beaming mother Shawntae Thorton said.