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Fran Blinebury

Steve Blake
The Lakers' Steve Blake visits with one of St. Jude's young patients.
St. Jude Hospital

Players, St. Jude kids band together to take on a mighty foe


Posted Mar 9 2011 9:44AM

With all of the crossover dribbles and head-spinning moves he's used on the basketball court through the years, Dwyane Wade knows what it's like to make an opponent feel defenseless.

But it's helping defenseless kids fight back against an opponent as tough and unrelenting as cancer that moves the seven-time All-Star guard of the Miami Heat.

"I have a big heart for kids," he said.

Wade is part of an NBA team of players and coaches leading the way in the current Hoops for St. Jude Week (March 4-11), an effort to raise money for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn.

The NBA, St. Jude and the league's stars are recruiting fans to support the world-famous hospital through donations, an exclusive online auction and school fundraisers so that St. Jude can continue its mission of finding cures and saving children.

Wade and fellow program ambassadors, Pau Gasol and Steve Blake of the Lakers, Dwight Howard of the Magic, Rudy Gay of the Grizzlies, Kevin Love of the Timberwolves, David Lee of the Warriors and Nuggets coach George Karl have each committed a minimum $20,000 contribution to support the work of St. Jude.

"Through my Wade's World Foundation we do a lot of things for less fortunate kids and I had an opportunity to meet some of the St. Jude's kids, hear some of the things that they go through, that they have no control over," Wade said.

"Having two young sons of my own [Zaire, 9, and Zion, 3], I know the joys and the worries of being a parent. It's hard to think about what it's like to have a child with a life-threatening illness. These kids at St. Jude, a lot of them from birth they get diagnosed with it and have to deal with it. So do their parents and the rest of their families. It's tough.

"Through my foundation, we do a lot of things with Make-A-Wish and it was that group that first put me together with St. Jude's about two years ago. I met some of the kids and it seemed that I made an impression on some of them that first time. So I thought if I could continue to help, I would."

Teammates Gasol and Blake visited the hospital when the Lakers were in Memphis last month. Gasol invited a patient and her family to be his guests at the Lakers-Grizzlies game on Feb. 7. Blake has made it a point to visit St. Jude and spend time with some kids each time his NBA teams have been in town over the past several seasons.

"Two years ago, when I was playing in Portland, I got involved through Tom Penn when he was the assistant general manager with the Blazers," Blake said. "I heard Tom talking about St. Jude and the program with somebody else and it got my interest. My wife and I really wanted to get involved with a good cause and to help out and it seemed right away that this was the best.

"I've visited a number of times. Every year when we travel to Memphis, I take the time to meet some amazing young children and their parents and try to help them have a good time and to also see the great things that the hospital is doing.

"It is one of those things where you go in trying and hoping to make somebody else feel a little better. Then when you get there and you start to interact with the kids, you realize that in a lot of ways, they're the ones making you feel good with their attitude and their smiles."

Blake's family has been touched by childhood tragedy.

"I have a cousin who passed away at a young age from a brain tumor," he said. "That was several years ago and it's something that I've always thought about. These young kids go through these tough times and their families suffer with them. So it's nice to have a hospital that's doing great things with research and not making the kids and their families pay for the treatment, which would only make their lives harder."

Since opening in 1962, children from all 50 states and from around the world have come through the doors of St. Jude for treatment. It is the only pediatric cancer research center where families never pay for treatment not covered by insurance, and families without insurance are never asked to pay.

St. Jude has developed protocols that have helped push overall survival rates for childhood cancers from less than 20 percent when the hospital opened in 1962 to 80 percent today. Research discoveries and treatment protocols pioneered at St. Jude are shared freely with the global medical community.

The daily operating cost for St. Jude is approximately $1.6 million, which is primarily covered by public donations.

For more information about St. Jude and its mission of finding cures and saving children, and to join the NBA family in the program, fans can visit www.stjude.org.

"To see those kids, to know what they're going through and then when you're around them, see the energy that they have, the spirit that they have, it makes things like losing a few basketball games seem pointless, said Wade. "We're playing games, maybe missing shots. It's nothing compared to with what they have to go through every day.

"You want heroes? They're at St. Jude."

Fran Blinebury has covered the NBA since 1977. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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