Richard Smith’s face filled with excitement when he saw the tall, athletic figure arrive who was about to help him shop at the Staples store in Westchester.
Smith, a longtime Los Angeles Lakers fan, could not hold back his joy as six-foot-eight Laker forward Luke Walton introduced himself to Smith and his wife, Michelle, before accompanying them on a Staples shopping spree Tuesday afternoon, March 13th.
The Smiths, a hearing-impaired couple from Redlands, were the winners of the Staples Easy Play Decoder Game, giving them a $2,000 shopping spree at the Staples store on Sepulveda Boulevard in Westchester.
But not only did the Smiths get to hunt for items of their choice inside Staples, they got to do it with one of their favorite NBA players by their side, as Staples, Inc. teamed up with the Lakers in organizing the contest.
“I was so happy to see him,” said Richard Smith, who communicated with the help of a sign-language translator. “He’s very tall and he’s also very handsome.”
The meeting with Walton was a momentous occasion for Smith, who said he has been a big fan of the Lakers for a “long time now.”
“It started with Wilt (Chamberlain), then Jerry West, and of course, Magic Johnson,” Richard Smith said of his devotion to the Lakers.
Michelle Smith said the couple at first doubted that they had won the shopping spree contest but were “shocked,” once they saw the results on the computer.
The couple made sure to bring their three children, Jason, 15, Dennis, 12, and Steffany, 11, along for the ride, and Michelle Smith even dressed for the occasion, wearing a Laker-colored purple T-shirt.
When meeting with the Smiths prior to the shopping spree, Walton, son of legendary UCLA and NBA player Bill Walton, soon learned that this wasn’t just any couple, but one that knew their NBA history.
The family discussed basketball with their new shopping companion and Richard Smith even appeared to give Walton a history lesson on the elder Walton’s playing days.
“You know your stuff, don’t you,” Walton said to Richard Smith.
Following the shopping spree, Walton said he was impressed with Smith’s knowledge of the game.
“He knew stuff about my dad and all sorts of stuff,” Walton said. “It was fun to hang out.”
Richard Smith said he was equally impressed that Walton knew some sign language. Walton said he took a sign language class in college but admitted that he hasn’t kept up with it.
“I haven’t used it in so long that it’s a bit rusty right now,” Walton said.
Westchester Staples store general manager Darlene Walker said the store was “really excited” to be able to host the shopping spree and added that the Lakers organization was very cooperative in setting up the event.
“It’s exciting,” Walker said. “The customers who won are big fans of Luke Walton and they’re excited to be here.”
The Smiths were among three winners out of thousands of people who submitted entry forms in the Easy Play Decoder contest, she said.
When it came time to go shopping, the Smiths were given a cart with Laker purple-and-gold-colored balloons tied to the end, and instead of going through the aisles, the couple and Walton went straight to the computer section.
There the Smiths selected three Acer notebook laptops valued at $600 each — one for each of their three children.
After selecting the computers, the Smiths had just enough money left to purchase some computer accessories, including laptop cases.
Steffany Smith, who noted that she “felt short” standing next to Walton during the shopping spree, said she was pleased with her parents’ choice to get her a new computer.
As the Smiths carted their items to the cash register, they got one last form of assistance from Walton, who fittingly scanned the items for purchase — a total sale price of $2,064.58.
In deciding which items to pick during the spree, Michelle Smith said the couple chose not to take numerous smaller items but rather the three laptops that are much more important because they can help in their children’s education.
“We prefer to put our kids first rather than take care of ourselves,” Michelle Smith said.
But her husband jokingly couldn’t help but point out that he and Michelle ended up empty-handed.
“We didn’t get anything,” Richard Smith said.
Although Richard and Michelle Smith may have ended up itemless, Walton said he would try to make another of their dreams come true by getting them tickets to a Laker game this season.
The Smiths, who said they have never been to a professional basketball game, seem to have returned the favor in making the shopping spree a memorable day for Walton as well.
“It was awesome,” Walton said of the event. “These guys are great.”