NBA legend helps fire victims |

NBA legend helps fire victims

It was a promise lived up to that basketball legend Charles Barkley made to Conner Yingling, son of Tahoe Daily Tribune sports editor Steve Yingling.

At the site of the devastating Angora fire on Friday, Conner and his father told Barkley about their own personal loss to the Angora fire and the home they shared for 17 years.

Barkley, a man who towers in size and in heart, was deeply moved, as seen in a lengthy piece aired today during the American Century Championship.

It was Barkley who asked Conner what he could do for him. Conner asked for a signed basketball from him and fellow NBA legend Michael Jordan.

Making good on his promise, Michael Jordan presented the 14-year-old a basketball signed by him and Barkley in front of NBC Sports cameras and an estimated 6 million viewers.

Conner was moved by the presentation.

“It’s very hard to put into words. It’s a wonderful feeling that they are giving back. It’s wonderful they are giving back to all of the community like this,” Conner said.

Steve Yingling, featured in a lengthy piece on the fire by reporter Jimmy Roberts today during the NBC coverage of the tournament, said the generosity from American Century participants to the South Lake Tahoe community has been overwhelming.

There was concern and sympathy in Barkley’s voice Friday afternoon as he toured a South Lake Tahoe neighborhood decimated by the recent Angora Fire.

“This is unbelievable,” Barkley said. “I really want to let people know that this is really unfortunate. It’s going to take years for everybody to rebuild their houses here.”

The devastating fire destroyed 254 homes, displaced 3,500 residents and caused more than $160 million in damages last month.

The 11-time NBA All-Star visited several home owners on Mule Deer Drive and Mount Olympia Circle following the first round of the American Century Championship at Edgewood Tahoe Golf Course. He was accompanied by an NBC Sports film crew, including reporter Jimmy Roberts.

“If we stay over there at the golf and casino, we’re not going to think anything is going on here,” Barkley said. “That’s why I wanted to come here with a camera.

“When you live in different parts of the country and they show you two houses burned down, you don’t get the full effect.”

With Barkley pledging $100,000 of support, along with donations from other players in the tournament, NBC Sports, American Century Investments and Raley’s supermarkets, the outpouring shows there’s more to the tournament than golf.

“It’s flattering,” the veteran Tahoe Daily Tribune sports editor said. “(This) continues to show that the celebrities participating here are not here to gamble and play golf this year. They are here to help heal some of our deep wounds.”

Indeed. On Saturday night, Barkley served a Mexican buffet style dinner to more than 100 firefighters and their families at Cabo Wabo Catina inside Harveys Resort Casino. Fundraisers and auctions have been held throughout the event, which started on Tuesday.

The basketball will be treasured by Conner and his brother, 15-year-old Jordan, their father said.

“From my perspective it has put a smile on their faces,” their father said. “In having to deal with something like this, this summer has been the worst thing to happen to them in their lives.”

This isn’t the first time Barkley took an interest in people in need, visiting New Orleans last February well after the destruction caused by Hurricane Katrina.

“That hurricane could have hit last week, that’s how bad it was. Houses were all watered out and streets were nothing but mud everywhere, and that was two years later,” said Barkley, who donated a million dollars to help New Orleans residents recover.

That experience made him realize how important it is to follow up on disaster areas.

“We need to do something like this every year we come here … to show the progress,” he said.

To donate to the find for Angora victims, call (800) 732-3100 or go to the Web site

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