Jermaine Gresham, proud and private, is going to let you come along but not let you get too close.
There is The NBA Kid and The Skateboard Kid and The Big Kid and they are part of Gresham's group of six he is wheeling through Dick's Sporting Goods in Newport, Ky., on a night where the Marvin Lewis Community Fund has brought five Bengals on a magic carpet ride over the bridge from Paul Brown Stadium to bring Christmas morning a few weeks early.
The kids are part of part of Project Connect in the Cincinnati Public Schools. They are displaced and living with others while trying to find housing. One's family lost its home in a fire. They are considered homeless under education law. In all on this night, about 35 children from Lewis' "Learning is Cool Program," in Cincinnati, North College Hill, and Covington, Ky., are in the store.
"The Celtics can't trade Rondo. They have to build around him," says the seventh-grade NBA Kid as Gresham laces up a pair of sneakers for the young Danny Ainge.
"He could do Danny Ainge's job," says Gresham of the Celtics general manager. "He reads everything in the 2K game."
This is Gresham as you've never seen him. Gresham as he never wants to be seen. The only people that know he would give you the shirt off his back are his teammates. There are days he may give $100 to the homeless walking down the street, but since he prefers to do his deeds away from the camera, he jokes and calls himself "The Villain." Who knows? Maybe because Twitter is relentless.
Rebeka Beach, adolescent homeless liaison for CPS, has been matched up with Gresham for such events and knows what's on the way. The Skateboard Kid says, "Ms. Beach let me get the skateboard and the football and the gum."
Beach corrects him.
Bengals Players make an appearance at Dick's Sporting Goods store for Marvin Lewis Community Fund - Shop With A Pro event 12/08/2014
"We got Jermaine's permission and what did he say?" she asks.
"Yes," The Skateboard Kid says.
"He always says yes," Beach says. "Jermaine is very generous."
A TV camera zooms in on The NBA Kid and Gresham checking out the athletic footwear and he politely waves it away.
"He's treating me like he could be my father," says Jaynea Harris, the shooting guard for the Holmes High School girls' basketball team. "These are basketball shoes, but you can also wear them as casual shoes. He got me a nice North Face hoodie, some nice Adidas jogger pants, some compression shorts to wear under my basketball shorts and he got me some socks that I'm very thankful for. He asked if I wanted anything else and I said no and he said, 'Are you sure, are you sure?'"
Harris wondered about getting that North Face jacket. But she's here because she's got top grades, a bulletin-board personality, and is respectful of teachers and administrators. So why not splurge? Each child receives a $100 shopping spree card, but obviously there is more in the bag than that but that's never a problem when the Bengals are around.
Gary Pence, a special education teacher at Glenn O. Swing Elementary in Covington, has a fourth-grader just wild about the Bengals. She hooked up with A.J. Green and his fiancee Miranda Brooke and his student wanted to make sure she also got something for her brother and parents.
"A.J. couldn't have been nicer about it," Pence says. "I mean, she got his jersey and that had to be almost $100 by itself. She's been so excited all day. She'll be talking about this forever."
Gresham won't want you to know it, but he's got a rep for being one of the most generous guys on the team.
Coaches have seen it. One Christmas he went out shopping and gave a coach some presents for his kids because he hadn't seen them around much that year. The Western Athletic Association, a youth football league in Western Hills, knows it. Gresham, along with Adam Jones and Wallace Gilberry, recently helped a fundraiser to send the eight- and 11-year-old teams to Florida for a national tournament.
And the employees at PBS during lunch time have been known to get a big spread sent from Gresham from spots like Eli's Barbecue.
"He doesn't like to claim it," says Eric Ball, the Bengals director of player relations, about Gresham's leading generosity. "But it's true."
"What size are you?' asks Gresham of The Big Kid.
"Eleven and a half,' says The Big Kid.
"How old are you?" Gresham asks.
"Going to be a big one," Gresham says.
All his kids get shoes. And jackets. Gresham likes to make sure they get jackets.
"I'm The Grinch first. We start from the bottom up to get what you need. Then we get the fun stuff," Gresham says. "I knew as a kid the last thing I wanted for my gifts was clothes. Now that I'm older, wiser I like to help them out with more of that stuff. I also try to give them whatever they want."
The Skateboard Kid says he turns 10 in June and has never had a skateboard. He picks out a Shaun White beauty early and doesn't let go of it the entire trip while other people pump some clothes into his bag.
"His mom says the only shoes he has that fit are the ones he's wearing and wanted to make sure he got some," Beach says.
The NBA Kid looks in his bag. He's got those sweet Nikes that Gresham laced up for him. Socks. A North Face jacket, a Nike jacket, a Nike sweater, Nike jogging pants. A football.
"We were looking for a football yesterday when we wanted to play outside," he says.
They are about to check out when the NBA Kid realizes that he doesn't have a Gresham No. 84 jersey. Green, Carlos Dunlap, Andy Dalton, and Mohamed Sanu and their groups have already left, so this is the last errand of the night.
"The thing is, you should have a little bit of joy," Gresham says. "I don't like limiting it. So I try to give them as much as I can."
Gresham is over the limit, let's just say that. He asks you not to say how much. OK. But start with every yard he's caught in the NFL (2,640), and you may or may not be a little shy. maybe you're close, maybe not.
Does it matter?
So the last item of the night should be a No. 84. Gresham doubts they have it, but there are two Gresham jerseys left that are just about the NBA Kid's size.
"If it fits," he says, "grab it."
That's about right. Gresham's heart is always in stock.