KINSTON — Brandon Ingram has not forgotten where he — quite literally — came from.
“Brandon was born in this hospital, in 1997,” Robert Enders, the CEO of Kinston’s hospital, Lenoir UNC Health Care, said last Tuesday.
Enders was standing in front of two posters of the former Kinston high school star, both reading “Thank You Brandon.”
The large crowd of Ingram family members, reporters and hospital staff, trying to social distance while gathering around Enders, were waving hand-held “Thank You Brandon” fans in an effort to stave off the 90-degree heat. Most also wore stickers bearing the same message.
The target of all that gratitude was 614 miles away, where Ingram’s New Orleans Pelicans, in Orlando’s NBA bubble, were preparing to resume the NBA season. His father, Donald, was on site, however, wearing a T-shirt bearing his son’s screaming face and a mask bearing the younger Ingram’s jersey number, 14.
“Let’s give away some shoes,” Donald said, then proceeded to give out three dozen pairs of Adidas sneakers to the employees who had been named the hospital’s top employees for the last quarter.
Ingram greeted each employee, handed them their box of shoes, then elbow bumped them. He would do it a total of 982 times over the next two days as he and Enders made their way through every department of the hospital and gave every worker their new Adidas.
“Giving back to the hospital, it’s just something we like to do,” Ingram said from the bubble. “They’ve always supported me and our youth teams coming up. They’re always good in the community. I think it was important to us to reach out to them and just show love.”
Like his father, the younger Ingram grew up in Kinston. He went on to star in high school, then go to Duke for one season before getting selected second overall in the 2016 draft, joining a long line of Kinston basketball stars.
“He became part of Kinston’s proud tradition of sending its best and brightest players to the NBA,” Enders said.
Now in his fourth NBA season, Ingram made his first All-Star team this year. His success has put him in position to help the people that helped him growing up.
“I knew I wanted to do something for my hometown,” he said in a video played at the hospital ceremony. “I wanted to leave a mark before I leave this earth and make a name for myself.”
With the league shut down for four months due to the pandemic, Ingram decided to do something to support the city’s front-line workers in the battle against COVID-19.
“Brandon and the entire Ingram family believe in giving back to the community, and our local hospital means so much to us. Never more than at this crucial time,” Donald, who is the director of the Ingram Family Foundation, said.
So Brandon and Donald decided to work on organizing what would become the largest gift to employees in the history of Lenoir UNC Health Care.
“Normally, we do an event every year,” Donald Ingram said. “It would normally be a back-to-school bookbag giveaway.”
Back-to-school is a little different this year, however, and the need for backpacks isn’t as great for students who are learning from home. So the family changed the plan.
“We switched gears this year, and I redirected the funds toward the hospital to recognize and show our appreciation for their continued work and dedication in the fight against COVID-19,” Donald Ingram said. “It means a lot. We always say we want to give back to the community. It’s an opportunity to give back to the hospital.”
“It’s not really the price tag on it,” the elder Ingram said. “It was an $85,000 gift, but it didn’t really mean anything as far as being a particular price tag. What it meant to us was the fact that it touched so many people. They showed their appreciation, coming out in this scorching heat. What they’re fighting against each and every day, being away from their own families, dealing with the COVID-19 patients, it meant a lot just to be able to give back.”
Clutching their fans, and, of course, their new shoes, the employees of UNC Lenoir Health Care then walked across the parking lot to the hospital’s main entrance — to go back to work.
“Brandon is recognizing the sacrifices, dedication and hard work of the UNC Health Care team,” he said. “What a great morale booster for us during these challenging times. With everything we have confronting us recently, the last thing we need are tired, sore feet.”