Smiles, hugs and basketball jerseys decorated the Upper School Library at Porter-Gaud Wednesday evening.
The mood was light and celebratory, as folks filed into the room, with finger sandwiches and drinks circulating the room.
Charleston Mayor John Teckenburg captured the moment best with one, resounding proclamation.
“It’s Khris Middleton Day, y’all,” he said, as applause erupted in celebration of the NBA All-Star.
Seconds later, Middleton stood up. Sporting a plaid button-down shirt, and offering his own hugs and smiles, the Milwaukee Bucks’ guard accepted a key to the City of Charleston.
Later, he unveiled his No. 22 jersey in the Porter-Gaud gym rafters, never to be worn again.
For Middleton, the soft-spoken, low-key Charleston native, looking up at his jersey usurps everything that’s happened to him this summer. That includes two weeks ago, when he inked a five-year, $178 million deal to stay in Milwaukee.
“When you get your jersey retired, that tops everything,” he said, after former teammates, family and friends raised a glass in his honor. “It’s really not about the money. It’s about what you’re doing it for.”
So what, or who, is Middleton doing it for?
It’s about the dozens of kids who will be at Porter-Gaud Thursday for his annual basketball camp, where he teaches fundamentals to the youth.
Some of those same kids are benefiting from his $1 million pledge that is helping underprivileged kids in the Charleston area.
Elsewhere, families have been impacted by the Lowcountry native’s “12 Days of Khristmas,” a December initiative that gifted single mothers with spa days, teachers with gift bags, and aided troubled kids.
“This isn’t just a stellar basketball player. This is a stellar human being,” Tecklenburg said.
He wasn’t the only one heaping praise on Middleton Wednesday night.
Travis Smith, his childhood friend, reflected on the NBA All-Star’s work ethic, detailing times when Middleton fought through injuries at Texas A&M and later in the NBA.
And John Pearson, Middleton’s coach at Porter-Gaud, told stories of how a skinny, seventh grader with an allergic reaction to the summer grass developed into one of the best basketball players in the league.
“In my world, as a basketball coach, that’s crazy,” Pearson told the dozens of people in attendance. “I went to the NBA All-Star game to watch the top 24 players in the world. And he’s there.”
James Middleton, Khris father, feels the same way every time he tunes in to a Bucks’ game. He saw his son average 18.3 points per game, along with 6 rebounds and 4.3 assists this season.
“Khris chose a passion,” his dad said. “And once he chose that passion, he put all of his efforts into that. It’s come to pass that now. He’s one of the best in the world.”
Soon enough, Middleton will return to the NBA court for the 2019-2020 season. After getting just two games away from the NBA Finals this past season, he and Giannis Antetokounmpo, the reigning league MVP, will look to lead the Bucks past the other teams in the Eastern Conference.
But for the next couple of days, Middleton’s teammates and opponents won’t be professional athletes.
They’ll be a bunch of kids in the Porter-Gaud gym, oozing with excitement because they’re being coached by an NBA star.