- Associated Press - Sunday, March 13, 2016

KINGSPORT, Tenn. (AP) - The Harlem Globetrotters love to put a smile on people’s faces. Not only do they love to see smiling faces at their basketball games, but they also love to see them in classrooms or hospital beds.

The internationally known team loves smiles so much that it created a program called the Great Assist initiative, which pledges to spread 100 million smiles around the world over the next 10 years with acts of kindness.

It was this initiative that brought a Harlem Globetrotter to Kingsport on Wednesday. Zeus McClurkin, one of the team’s stars, visited patients at Wellmont Holston Valley Medical Center and brought plenty of smiles to sick children.

“We’re going to spread as many smiles as possible,” he said. “We’re basketball players but we’re also good ambassadors.”

Part of the Great Assist initiative is Smile Patrol, a hospital community outreach program designed to brighten the days and lift the spirits of fans who are unable to attend a Harlem Globetrotters game.

“The kids thrive on these type of visits,” said Laurie Kaudewitz, director of women’s and children’s services for HVMC. “I think they look up to them.”

Kaudewitz said such visits are highlights for the staff as well.

Luckily, there were not a lot of children at HVMC during Zeus’ visit, which makes him very happy. He visited one child and showed some of the world famous Globetrotter tricks. The child also received a signed photo of Zeus.

“When you can make kids smile like that, they forget why they’re here,” Kaudewitz said. “Anything we can do to brighten their day and make them smile makes them feel so much better.”

This is Zeus’ second season with the Globetrotters. He’s already visited 18 countries and said the experience has been a whirlwind. It’s a long way for someone who did not make his first basketball team until his junior year of high school.

“I was told I was too nice to play basketball,” he said. “They said all I wanted to do was smile and dunk. … Now I get paid to smile and dunk.”

For those interested in seeing all the fun that takes place when the Globetrotters are on the court, the team will be visiting Freedom Hall in Johnson City on March 22. Tickets can be purchased through the Globetrotters website at www.harlemglobetrotters.com.

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Information from: Kingsport Times-News, https://www.timesnews.net

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