76ers' Hawes honors National Guard members

Posted: November 21, 2010

Following Friday's 90-79 win over the Milwaukee Bucks, the 76ers were given the day off Saturday. Sixers center Spencer Hawes had a full day of activity, however, and he couldn't have been happier.

Hawes hosted, at the Cherry Hill Armory, members of the National Guard who will soon be deployed to Afghanistan.

The guardsmen will likely leave by the end of the year for 30 days of training at Fort Lewis in Washington state before going to Afghanistan. Their total tour of duty will last about a year.

In an event called "Salute to Our Troops," Hawes hosted 76 military members and their families. He donated a Thanksgiving basket, which included a turkey, met with military men and women and their families, posed for pictures, and signed autographs.

"It's just inspiring to be around these people," Hawes said. "For all the sacrifices they make for our country, it was an honor to get to meet so many great people."

One could see how inspired Hawes was after talking to a few of the soon-to-be-deployed guardsmen.

"I'm excited to help my country," said Chris Bixby, 35, of Elk Township.

Added Jose Ayala, 23, of Hammonton: "It's something I feel needs to be done, and any sacrifice is worth helping the country."

Hawes was accompanied by Sixers mascot Hip-Hop, who, when he wasn't flirting with women was making many of the children and adults laugh with his antics.

This was such an important event to Hawes that his mother, Lisa, flew in earlier in the week from Washington state to spend time with him and attend on Saturday.

This is Hawes' first year with the Sixers after spending his first three seasons with the Sacramento Kings. His mother said that while in Sacramento, Hawes also was part of programs that honored military members.

"He's very patriotic and supportive toward military members," Lisa Hawes said. "I'm much prouder of what he has done [with] these situations than of him playing basketball."

As impressed as Hawes was with all the people he met, the Sixers center also left a favorable impression.

"It's so great that a 22-year-old professional athlete wants to partner with the military," said Brig. Gen. Jim Grant, the director of the Joint Staff of the New Jersey National Guard. "We are just so thrilled that he and the 76ers would do this."

Others shared that view, including Bill Lintner, 42, of Sicklerville, who also introduced Hawes to his sons, Billy and Jake.

"It's just a real treat to see Spencer Hawes spending time, hanging out with us," Lintner said. "It's really special."

The Sixers have gotten off to a disappointing 3-10 start, but there was no mention of that on Saturday. This was a day to honor those who make it a good day just being in their presence.

Hawes ended by saying a few words of gratitude to those gathered.

"I'd like to thank each and every one of you for all you do," Hawes said. "You are an inspiration to all of us."

Contact staff writer Marc Narducci at 856-779-3225 or mnarducci@phillynews.com.

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