Nuggets honor Aurora theater victim, take part in annual equipment drive

Murray, Malone, Beasley, and Hernangomez on hand for 5th annual giveSports equipment drive.

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Credit: Jake Marsing, 5280 Sports Network

*Editors Note: Nate Lundy is the co-founder of 5280 Sports Network. He is quoted in this piece strictly in his capacity as a friend of the late Jessica Ghawi.*

DENVER— July 20, 2012 will always be marked in Nate Lundy’s memory.

“I got a phone call in the middle of the night,” Lundy said. “Then, that turned into another phone call from somebody else, and another phone call from somebody else, and ultimately it was something that I didn’t need authorities to verify what I already felt in my heart had happened.”

A gunman had walked into a crowded movie theater outside of Denver, killed 12 innocent people, and wounded more than 70 others.

Among those murdered was an aspiring sports journalist with a winning smile and a passion for life.

“When Jessi would walk into a room, you knew it,” Lundy said. “It didn’t matter the size of the room or how many people were in it. That was not only her personality, but it was just who she was. She wanted to know everybody. She wanted to get to know everybody. She had one of those personalities that just lit up a room. It made it very easy to love her because she had such a passion for life.”

Jessica Ghawi had come to Denver from San Antonio looking to land her dream job. Lundy, then the program director at Denver’s largest sports talk radio station and a former resident of San Antonio himself, gave her an internship.

“She had become friends with people that I knew in San Antonio, but she had a passion for hockey,” Lundy said. “It was kind of a natural fit for her to make a leap of faith to uproot herself from Texas and come to Denver where, not only could she get her experience and study sports journalism, but she could do it in a town that had a hockey team. That was really important to her.”

She was a rising star in Denver sports media who wasn’t satisfied simply talking to athletes or interviewing coaches. Ghawi wanted to make an impact in the community.

In 2012, just weeks before her death, she had begun to organize a sports equipment drive to help disadvantaged children, and families who had been impacted by that summer’s rabid wildfire season.

“There were families that lost their homes and their belongings,” Lundy said. “What she zeroed in on was the fact that there were kids that had lost their gear to be able to play sports. What she wanted to do was get gear for these kids so that they would be able to continue to play. It didn’t matter whether it was hockey, or lacrosse, or football, or golf. It didn’t matter. She felt bad for these kids.”

Then, she was gone. Taken before she could see her project come to fruition.

As her family mourned and the community healed, Kroenke Sports and Entertainment decided to pick up the mantle. They partnered with A Precious Child, a charity organization dedicated to improving the lives of disadvantaged kids in Colorado to make Jessica’s vision a reality.

Just after her death, they hosted the first giveSports Equipment Drive.

Saturday, it celebrated it’s fifth anniversary.

Denver Nuggets’ head coach Michael Malone, along with the team’s three first round draft picks, guards Jamal Murray and Malik Beasley and forward Juancho Hernangomez, were all on hand to help collect more 16,000 donated items and six thousand dollars in scholarship funds.

The group of Nuggets helped unload a U-Haul full of brand-new equipment being donated by Dick’s Sporting Goods.

Credit: Jake Marsing, 5280 Sports Network.

“Hopefully all the stuff that’s being donated today can go to a young boy, a young girl, or a family that can use it and make the most of it,” Malone said after setting down the last box of soccer cleats. “Having a bunch of our players out here, some of our coaches giving back to our community, we always try to do that whenever we can.”

The Nuggets didn’t bring three of their youngest players out for this event by accident. Malone believes getting the rookies out in the community can be beneficial, not just for them, but for the fans as well.

“So, right now, most of our fans know them as basketball players only,” Malone said. “But, now, hopefully they can start getting to know them as young men and what they’re going to bring to the community. [Nuggets’ General Manager] Tim Connelly does a great job of not only drafting talent, but he drafts young men that have high character that are going to fit into the culture we’re trying to create. The more our fans get to know them, the better off everybody is going to be.”

Malik Beasley, the Nuggets’ No. 19 pick in this past NBA draft, sent out a tweet the night before the event expressing his excitement about participating in the equipment drive and honoring Ghawi’s legacy.

Saturday, Beasley re-iterated that message.

“It’s sad we lost her,” he said. “But, what she did for the community was great. We want to continue that. We want to help each other out. Help the kids. Do whatever we gotta do to keep that legacy alive.”

Coming out into the community as an NBA rookie could be a a daunting task, especially when you’re in a town where the NFL is king. But, Beasley feels that doing events like the giveSports equipment drive, and honoring the memory of Jessica Ghawi, helps to strengthen the Nuggets’ presence in Denver.

“It just helps the team,” Beasley said. “It shows that we care about the community. It’s not just about me. It’s about the community. We’re trying to bring Denver back in the basketball world. The Broncos had a great year. The Rockies just beat the Cubs last night. We’re just trying to keep Denver alive.”

The mood Saturday was happy. Music blared, and Buffalo Wild Wings fed volunteers and donors.

Yet, as the cars rolled through the Pepsi Center parking lot one after the other and dozens of people stopped by to drop off what they’d cleaned out of their garage or purchased at the local sporting good’s store, it was hard to shake the feeling that something was missing. Actually, someone was missing.

Credit: Jake Marsing, 5280 Sports Network

“Jessi would be here,” Lundy said. “She’d be smiling, and she’d be unloading cars, and she’d be loading up the semi-trailer and all that, but she’d be hiding in the background. That was who she was. It wasn’t about her. It never was about her. That’s one of the things that made me love her. It was never about her.”

A Precious Child, the organization collecting the items donated today, always has a need for new or gently used sports equipment. They accept donations year-round and can be contacted by visiting their website.