HAPPY BIRTHDAY, BRANDON BASS!

Brandon Bass

Brandon Bass, power forward for the Los Angeles Lakers, just concluded his 10th NBA season a couple of weeks ago, and is finally able to take a break from the grueling schedule to relax a little. So how did he decide to spend some of his precious free time? Visiting LA's BEST -- during his birthday week, no less. At 6-foot-8, 250 pounds, he towered above the elementary-school students, but somehow he made himself accessible, unimposing, charming and funny within minutes of meeting the kids.

When he saw them playing a playground game that teaches cooperation and teamwork, Brandon literally jumped in with both feet. Brandon's team won the first challenge in the contest by successfully passing a football hand-to-hand more quickly than the other team could fill a bag with bouncing balls that were scattered around the play area after a row of kids kicked them. (Of course, it helped that the ball Brandon kicked flew clear over the playground fence, which required a friendly neighbor to retrieve and return the ball.)

At another point, Brandon danced with the LA's BEST drill team at 135th Street Elementary School, learning to do the "whip" and "nae nae," as the team rehearsed for the upcoming 25th Anniversary Dance & Drill Team Showcase that will feature about 3,500 children from over 180 LAUSD schools across the City.

Finally, Brandon conducted a question-and-answer session, where he fielded inquiries about how he got started playing basketball, about his height, about what it's like to play with Kobe Bryant, and about the best lesson about life he could share with a child. In response to the last question, Brandon said that every age is the best age and advised that kids relish every year of their lives.

Happy Birthday, Brandon. Here's to the best year of your life!