Former NBA player takes L.A. County foster children, hundreds of them, to the circus in Glendale

About 600 children and teens in the L.A. County foster system -- along with about 700 less-fortunate children from area schools and nonprofit organizations -- got their own performance at the Ramos Bros. Circus on Sunday thanks to a former NBA player who decided to pay for the event “instead of buying a car.”

Brad Wright — a UCLA alum who played for the New York Knicks and Denver Nuggets — and his wife paid for the 11 a.m. performance, which was added to the circus’ regular schedule for a packed crowd.

“We want to do something for the kids,” Wright said before the show. “Instead of buying a car, we bought a circus.”

Buying out the circus was his way of welcoming his 3-year-old adopted daughter, Melanie, to the family and to show her what it means to give back, he said.

“This is what I do now. When people ask me what I do, this is what I do. I’m dedicating my life to these kids,” Wright said. “I’ve been very fortunate to play for 15 years, but right now this is no game. These people really need our help and I’m going to be right out there.”

At 6 feet, 11 inches tall, Wright would go on to stand in the middle of a globe as two motorcyclists rode around him, wowing the crowd.

The circus also featured dancers, magicians and animals, including Atula — the camel that briefly escaped and roamed Verdugo Road earlier in the week — which received a standing ovation.

It was huge event to pull off after getting Wright’s unsolicited offer, said Lovette Panthier, with the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services.

“He’s like ‘I want to buy the circus’ and I was thinking ‘Oh my gosh, how can I pull this off?’ And we did within in like 10 days,” she said.

Panthier arranged for buses through the county supervisor’s office, and then tapped several social workers from different departments to help get the families — roughly 600 people in all — to the buses.

Johnny Rockets provided free food to all the kids and their families, as well as unlimited milkshakes. The Wrights adopted Melanie about three weeks ago after living with the them since she was 1 1/2 years old.

His marching band from his alma matter, Daniel Murphy Catholic High School, and cheerleaders — brought together by Fox 11 News’ Christine Devine, whose “Wednesday’s Child” segment focuses on children seeking adoptive homes — rounded the event out.

[For the Record, Dec. 5, 2012: A previous version of this post incorrectly identified Wright's high school alma mater as being El Camino High School. He graduated from Daniel Murphy Catholic High School.]

While the Wrights are footing the entire bill for this year’s circus performance, Ramos Bros. agreed to match their contribution for the next three years. The Wrights will pay for one performance and the circus will present another free of charge for children from organizations that the Wrights choose, Wright said.

And all of the upcoming performances will be in Glendale — a city Wright prefers, he added.

“I know the community of Glendale, I love the people and I love the families here,” Wright said. “Although I do live in the other part of the valley, I’m always going to do a show here in Glendale.”

That means hundreds more families and children in the county foster system will also get the chance to witness a circus. And for many in the system — like Christy Thompson, a foster parent from North Hills with two daughters who attended the show Sunday — “free” is the only way that can happen.

“I know I wouldn’t have the money to come and I know a lot of other people wouldn’t also, so I feel really blessed to have been able to come here,” she said. “Never in my life have I gotten to go to something like this."

-- Mark Kellam and Josh Cox, Times Community News

Follow Mark Kellam on Twitter: @LAMarkKellam


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