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Grizzlies tea party at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital

Landon Brereton, a patient at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, looked up at Grizzlies’ seven-foot center Marc Gasol in the lobby of the Grizzlies House to ask if Gasol would please autograph his basketball.  Gasol signed the basketball, but little did he know, he signed right next to his brother’s autograph from several years ago.  Diagnosed with a deadly form of brain cancer, Landon has been in and out of treatment at St. Jude for several years, but he keeps his spirits up through the game of basketball.  When Landon was first diagnosed, he met former Grizzlies player Pau Gasol, and now just a few years later, met the younger Gasol brother, Marc.  His family feels so blessed to meet the Gasol brothers and other Grizzlies’ players who dedicate time to helping those in situations much like Landon’s.

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Landon is just one of about 100 St. Jude patients who filled the Grizzlies House on Thursday, March 15 for a party hosted by the Memphis Grizzlies.  As a tip-off to Hoops for St. Jude Week (March 26-30), these children and their families were afforded the opportunity to meet Grizzlies’ players Marc Gasol, Rudy Gay, Quincy Pondexter, Dante Cunningham and Hamed Haddadi while the players served them tea and cookies. 

While Pondexter, Cunningham and Haddadi decorated cookies with blue and yellow icing for the kids in the main party room, Hoops for St. Jude Ambassadors Gay and Gasol hosted their own gatherings in a room across the hall.  Complete with chef’s hat and apron, Gay decorated cookies and joked with several kids, while Gasol joined a group of young girls for a tea party complete with cookies and imaginary tea.  As wonderful as it was to see the joy on these kids’ faces during the party, one of the best sights was Gasol with his knees up to his head sitting in a miniature chair designed for toddlers.

Gasol and his fellow teammates were very gracious to be part of the event.  He said, “It’s not just important to me; it’s important to everybody.  Everybody wants to be a contributor and be a part of this big family.  I think it’s important that everybody understands what they (St. Jude) do, and it’s an honor to be at this event.”

Throughout the party, players posed for photos and signed autographs, putting a smile on every child’s face.  These children were given an opportunity that most kids only dream about—meeting NBA stars.  Rick Shadyac, CEO of St. Jude’s fundraising organization ALSAC, described what he saw during the afternoon festivities as what can only be called a blessing.  “I saw the most excited kids on the planet.  They saw their idols, the stars that they get to watch on television every single day, walk into their housing facility and immediately ran up to them and wanted to get autographs and get photographs taken with them.  It was their opportunity to meet their heroes.”

This event gave the players a chance to interact with the kids of St. Jude and give back to the community in a very special way.  This party was just one aspect of Hoops for St. Jude, a league-wide fundraising and awareness initiative that encourages players, teams and fans to turn their passion for basketball into hope for children battling cancer and other deadly diseases at St. Jude. 

Pete Pranica, Grizzlies television play-by-play announcer and long-time supporter of St. Jude, summed it up best when he quoted Danny Thomas by stating that “no child should die in the dawn of life,” and with the raise of awareness and remarkable research at St. Jude, these children and their families can take comfort in the incredible recovery rate at St. Jude.  And with the help of the Memphis Grizzlies, these families could also take a break from the illness and treatment for a day that these kids will never forget.