Clarkson explains why Utah holds a place in his heart as he hands out 200 meals

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WEST VALLEY CITY — LeBron Kamoto was trying to process what just happened.

He walked into a school gymnasium and met Utah Jazz goaltender Jordan Clarkson. He also took a picture with him. This kind of thing doesn’t happen often to kids in West Valley City.

He was then handed a sharpie and told to go ask the jazz star for an autograph.

No, it was too much, LeBron told his mother, Oliana. He felt that Clarkson had already taken the time to take a picture, and he couldn’t ask for more. After some prompting, the shy kid returned to one of his jazz heroes, and Clarkson quickly and happily signed a picture for him.

“It was crazy,” LeBron said, beaming. “I’m about to shake.”

On Tuesday afternoon, Clarkson and her family traveled to Valley JUnion High to distribute 200 Thanksgiving dinners to local families. Each family went to the school gymnasium to get everything they needed – stuffing, potatoes, macaroni and cheese, pumpkin pie, yams, etc. – at stations operated by family members and friends of Clarkson.

When they got to the end, Clarkson was waiting for them with a turkey and a bright smile.

For LeBron Kamoto, the experience was a dream. For Oliana, it was a blessing.

“It’s going to be a lot,” she said. “There are a lot of people who have been through tough times, and it’s been great.”

This is exactly why Clarkson organized the event.

“I know today is something they will remember,” Clarkson said. “Being able to eat Thanksgiving food, hang out with us, whatever. I know that means a lot; it means a lot to us. That’s why we do it. We just keep trying to share the joy and love.”

Clarkson also got an assist from a teammate. Jarred Vanderbilt wasn’t originally slated to come to Valley Junior High, but when he found out what was going on he decided to drop by.

“I’m big on giving back,” he said. “Anytime I can be a part of something like this and just help out and be there, (I want to). … The fact that they smile makes me smile.”

For Vanderbilt, Tuesday also hit a little close to home. He grew up in a low-income home in a low-income neighborhood of Houston. He knows how difficult things can be during the holidays.

“I feel like everyone deserves to have a great Thanksgiving meal, no matter what circumstances you find yourself in,” he said. “Part of (the responsibility) of being in the position we’re in is to do our part.”

In addition to helping with Clarkson’s event, Vanderbilt will also provide Thanksgiving meals for five families at the Neighborhood House in Salt Lake City. Elsewhere, Jazz point guard Collin Sexton will serve a meal provided by Catholic Community Services to about 200 people at the Women’s Resource Center.

“It warms everyone’s heart,” Clarkson said. “As long as we’re all here, it’s a community.”

Clarkson is happy to be part of this community. With all the offseason moves happening around him, Clarkson was happy to stay at Utah — even when the team wasn’t expected to be as competitive as it proved.

Why?

“The way they’ve kissed me since I got here,” he said. “They’ve shown love since I’ve been here. Whatever other people are saying – opposing teams and opposing fans – it’s very different.

“For us, it’s a lot of people coming together. Of course there are negatives or whatever, but overall I think it’s been embracing. With everything that’s happened over the last few years, people have come together, and it’s been a great experience. I love it here, and it will always be in my heart.

After Tuesday, a few hundred families will also have a special place in their hearts for him.

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Ryan Miller has been covering the Utah Jazz for KSL.com since 2018.

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