Brooklyn Coach Adam Harrington Honors Sister Jill With a Legacy of Moments to Remember

The Jill E. Harrington Hanzalik Memorial Fund will host its Sneaker Soiree at Glen Ridge Country Club in New Jersey on Wednesday, Sept. 22. The event will feature tennis and golf outings with professional athletes including the Nets’ Steve Nash, Bruce Brown, Blake Griffin, and Joe Harris, and a cocktail hour and dinner with a panel featuring pro stars. To purchase tickets or for more information on the event, auction, and sponsorship opportunities, visit jehhmemorialfund.org.

The idea behind it all was obvious, and pure. Adam Harrington wanted to find a way to share a piece of what his sister Jill had given him through the years as he worked his way from small-town Massachusetts to big-time college basketball and finally to the NBA when he signed with the Dallas Mavericks as a rookie free agent in 2002.

“She was just an amazing person,” said Harrington. “I just remembered as I chased my dreams of trying to make it to the NBA what she meant to me along the way. Sometimes that was mentoring, sometimes that was being a big sister. Sometimes that was financial stuff. How can we create a foundation that will help people chase their dreams, and there’s a lot of different ways you can do that.”

Jill Harrington Hanzalik was 33 years old and eight-and-a-half months pregnant when she died in 2010. The stage 4 colon cancer had gone undiagnosed and her infant son, Chase, could not be saved either. Adam, four years younger, lost his best friend. He had been the maid of honor at her wedding. She had lived with him in Dallas when he made the Mavericks, working for the team herself and building her own career in the league, working for the NBA on events like the Finals and the All-Star Game.

After his time with the Mavericks and then the Nuggets later that same season, Adam had bounced between the G League and playing abroad. He was playing in Europe at the time and returned home, eventually taking a year away from the game entirely.

“I just wanted to be there for my family,” said Harrington. “I wanted to start a foundation and I wanted it to be something that lasted a long time. A lot of times tragedy hits and everybody will give initially and before you know it, it’s over. What can we do to continually give back?”

The answer was there in the life Jill had lived, helping put together the memorable moments and milestones for others. With the creation of the Jill E. Harrington Hanzalik Memorial Fund, they started an annual golf outing at Mount Snow in Vermont to serve as a primary fundraiser, and hosted 5K runs and the Chase Your Dreams Basketball Classic for teams from New England, awarding grants to the participants.

They facilitated travel for a state championship cheerleading squad from Alaska to perform at a college football bowl game in Florida, for a performing arts group to see Broadway for the first time, for a youth mock Congress to visit Washington, D.C.

“To me, it’s always about creating these goosebump moments,” said Harrington. “I imagine this cheerleading group flying across the country, walking out to 60,000 people at the Capital One Bowl and that feeling they would get. We wanted to help create those.”

Harrington found his own way back to the game doing training sessions that began with middle school kids and eventually led him to Kevin Durant. From there, he joined the Oklahoma City staff as a shooting coach and then came to Brooklyn in 2016 as an assistant coach and director of player development.

Each step along the way, Jill and the foundation were tied to everything he did. He and his wife, Kearstin, were married on Jill’s birthday, Sept. 4, and their daughter was named after her aunt. They began to turn the foundation’s focus more towards sustainable projects, building three basketball courts. With his family entrenched in the New York area as he approaches his sixth season with the Nets, Harrington also wanted to make a bigger impact in the place he now calls home.

So on Wednesday, Sept. 22, the JEHH Memorial Fund will launch a new era and host its biggest event yet, the Sneaker Soiree at Glen Ridge Country Club in New Jersey, with the goal of funding two new court projects, one in East Orange, NJ and the other in Brooklyn.

The day will feature a host of activities that begin with Pros & Joes golf and tennis outings in the morning. PGA Championship winner Jason Dufner will lead a private clinic before guests can take the course in foursomes with Dufner, Nets guard Bruce Brown and others. Nets head coach Steve Nash and the New York Liberty’s Sabrina Ionescu will take to the tennis courts.

The evening cocktail hour and dinner will be highlighted by an event Harrington has been eyeing for years, the Chase Your Dreams panel where elite athletes will discuss how they pursued their goals to the highest level. Dufner, Ionescu, lacrosse star Matt Rambo, former NFL quarterback Jason Campbell and Brooklyn’s Blake Griffin are among those scheduled to participate in the panel, hosted by YES Network’s Ryan Ruocco.

“We have some phenomenal athletes already committed,” said Harrington. “We’re adding more and more. Ideally we’ll have one from every one of the major sports. I just think it’s a really cool thing for families and people coming to support it to hear from some of these top athletes on what they remember, who they remember and any advice they can give on chasing their dreams. That’s another dream of mine coming true. I’m excited about it.”

In addition, Brooklyn’s Joe Harris, former Net Spencer Dinwiddie, and Nets assistant coach Tiago Splitter are scheduled to attend. Harrington expressed his appreciation to professional teams throughout the New York area for their contributions, particularly the Nets and the Tsai family ownership group.

“A lot of the Brooklyn family will be showing up and supporting,” said Harrington. “It’s going to be a fun night to give back but also, I think everybody in the room is going to get better from it and have a feeling that we’ve made a difference.”