CHARLOTTE – For Julius Peppers, Thursday night at the Harvey B. Gantt Center was the culmination of nearly a year's worth of community service.
Peppers, who was Carolina's 2018 NFL Man of the Year nominee, hosted a formal sneaker ball in support of three charities that he handpicked.
"I'm excited. All this stuff started out with the hurricane relief fund," Peppers said just before the party began. "We decided to do a charity ball for All-Star Weekend with the spotlight on the city of Charlotte and we wanted to celebrate as well.
"It's great to go out and have a good time and also have it benefit a good cause. That means a lot."
Peppers, usually known for backing away from the spotlight, was basking in the glow throughout the night. Since announcing his retirement, he's been overwhelmed by the collective love and support, and he was happy to mingle with guests and pose for a photo with anyone who asked.
This was a charity event, but it was also a chance to celebrate the close of a legendary career.
Several coveted pieces of sports memorabilia were up for grabs at the event. Among the items on display? A Steph Curry signed jersey, a signed Saquon Barkley helmet, a Drew Brees autographed ball and a signed Patrick Mahomes jersey.
And of course, several current and former Panthers were on hand to share in the celebration.
View photos from Julius Peppers' charity sneaker ball in Charlotte at the Harvey B. Gantt Center.
"A lot of support from my teammates, well, former teammates," Peppers said with a chuckle. "Everyone has been congratulating me on a great career and it feels good to be appreciated."
The community is certainly appreciative of Peppers for all the work he's done during and after his final NFL season.
Here's what he had to say about the three charitable organizations his gala supported:
"The Young Black Leadership Alliance – they give exposure to youth locally and around the world. I thought they were great when I went out and visited them. I fell in love with it."
"The Girl Talk Foundation is run by someone that I know from my first stint with the Panthers. They are empowering young girls to be strong women. It's great."
"The Center for Community Transitions – they offer stability and assistance to families dealing with someone who has been incarcerated. A lot of people deal with that at one point or another, and that hit home for me.
"I just felt like those were the three we needed to support," Peppers said, "and I'm happy to help shine a light."