Away from the cameras, in-arena hostess Erin Nicole gets a laugh out of 4-year-old Wish Kid Dakhari. He’s sitting on the lap of Susan Lerch, the president of the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Michigan, who said her organization “has never had so much fun” at a fundraising event.
“I am absolutely blown away. It’s amazing,” she said. “The teamwork not only of the Pistons team but behind the scenes, all the people that are a part of the Palace and the Pistons. It’s just amazing. We’re tremendously grateful so many children’s lives will be positively impacted by what happened here. I have never seen anything quite like it.”
Many of the Pistons longtime corporate partners, like presenting sponsor Rock Financial, helped make the telethon a success. Besides helping out in the call center, Rock Financial pledged $10,000 to the cause. Rock Financial Chief Marketing Officer Todd Lunsford (speaking with Zaret) and Rock Financial President Patrick McInnis made the check presentation at the end of the third quarter.
The Pistons’ broadcast team of George Blaha and Greg Kelser, speaking here with the player of the game, Rip Hamilton, dressed up for the special occasion by wearing tuxedos. In two decades as a color analyst for the Pistons, Kelser had not seen anything quite like Friday night.
“No question once (the telethon) was in place that it would be successful,” he said. “I’m happy to be a part of it, no matter what small part I may have played in the event. It’s thrilling to have that opportunity. You could feel it was special night. It’s heartwarming to see the way people, even in hard times, still extend the hand of generosity. It’s a wonderful thing.”
Fans line up after the game to shoot a free throw on the court - and make a $1 donation to the Make-A-Wish Foundation. The Pistons offered this opportunity for the first time after Wednesday’s game against the 76ers - and raised $791 for the telethon. One fan even donated $100 on the spot.
Telethon volunteers hold up the final tally of the night: $412,060, which will grant 51 wishes for kids facing a life-threatening condition. Holding the last zero is Dan Hauser, the executive vice president of corporate marketing at The Palace. He’s also the person who, after watching a special episode of American Idol, believed the Pistons could dedicate an entire game to a worthy purpose.
“It’s exactly what I thought could happen,” he said. “Because when our staff gets together and puts their minds to something, they can do incredible feats. This is just an example of everyone pulling together, doing their part. You develop new relationships, new friends and you never lose sight of the kids. It’s about kids and making some lives happier."