Dressed in a full hat-to-boots Santa costume, Patty Mills had one question as he stepped down the steps of a subsidized housing community located in the Eastside neighborhood of San Antonio: What does Santa actually say?
Growing up in Australia, the San Antonio Spurs guard was used to Santa wearing “board shorts, a tank top, flip flops and sunglasses” and now that he was about to deliver presents to children, Mills wanted to make sure he would be a convincing version of Jolly Old Saint Nick. Luckily for Mills, his teammate Rasual Butler was also dressed up like Santa and the two rehearsed their “ho-ho-ho” and regal yet jolly sounding “Merry Christmas” before embarking on their afternoon gift-giving journey.
Both Mills and Butler were volunteering their time and representing the Spurs as part of The Elf Louise Christmas Project, a San Antonio non-profit that gives presents to underprivileged youth around the holidays. Like most NBA teams, the Spurs are very active in their local community and have been working with Elf Louise for quite some time. Players like Boris Diaw, Danny Green (who children were disappointed wasn’t Tony Parker) and even as far back as David Robinson (Butler apparently was wearing the Santa suit that the Hall-of-Fame center once wore) have all participated in the non-profit’s gift-giving events.
Knocking on doors as Santa, Mills and Butler entered the homes of several residences at the apartment complex, giving out gifts, Spurs tickets and spreading holiday cheer. Both players would take their time in each home, interacting with families and posing for numerous pictures. This was a role Mills absolutely relished and made the event quite festive by giving out hugs to everyone that wanted one, leading “Go Spurs Go!” chants, asking and then calling children by their name and also cracking non-stop jokes with the families. Mills’ Australian accent may have confused a few of the young children but that didn’t stop him, as he kept spouting Santa sayings and remaining jolly.
Older children were quick to recognize both players though. When one older boy told them that he had just watched the Spurs win the night before and that he’s been rooting for the team his whole life, Mills sincerely thanked him for the support and then gave him dap. This was an exchange that took all of 20 seconds but the boy’s smile was as wide as Santa’s belly for the rest of the time the players were in his home.
Perhaps the most emotional moment of the afternoon was when a mother came out of her house with her two young boys and teared up at the sight of both players.
Comforting the mother, Mills hugged the family and then with Butler, posed for pictures with the boys.
“That hit home probably for both of us,” Mills said about the moment afterward. “Understanding that we probably take what we do for granted. To see a mom and her two kids genuinely be excited and in shock and in tears to meet us, it hit home pretty hard. It just shows how much this means to these families.”
At first, the two would take turns visiting families but by the midway point, Butler and Mills developed a good synergy and started giving out gifts together. Mills took great delight in telling children that they must’ve been good “lil’ boys and girls” because two Santas were coming to their homes. This dynamic also worked great when the duo passed a group of children playing basketball on an outdoor court.
After taking a couple of shots with the group, Mills and one young boy began to defend Butler, who quickly drove by them and threw down a dunk. Proving that Santa can dunk, Butler’s two-handed throwdown prompted the children to shriek in delight.
Santa can ball pic.twitter.com/Bi5YnWeRYr— San Antonio Spurs (@spurs) December 19, 2015
While Butler’s dunk was nothing sensational, like everything the Spurs teammates did that day, it was very thrilling for the children and their families. The whole afternoon was also exciting for Mills and Butler, making an impact on both of them.
“To be able to come and help these kids have a good holiday is an amazing feeling,” Butler said afterward summing the afternoon up. “To see their emotion and their excitement, that was really exciting for me. To bring that joy to people, is something that you will always remember. It’s just a really cool feeling.”