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All Kinds of Heroes: Michael Heisley

I grew up as a big basketball fan. Players like Jerry West, Dr. J., Wilt Chamberlain and Larry Bird kept me glued to my set and made me beg to be taken to the next NBA game. When Michael Jordan joined my home team, the Chicago Bulls, he rose to the top of my list of heroes. Our city united in a passion that can only be ignited by watching winning basketball night after night.

The fact that my passion for basketball eventually turned into ownership of my own NBA team still gives me goose bumps. The team is located in Memphis—a place that before the year 2000 I had never visited. Without basketball, I might never have formed a bond with St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

Athletes impress and excite us. While many of them are also fine citizens who contribute to their communities, we look up to them because of their grace, their strength and their ability to perform at an elite level. Just one visit to St. Jude highlighted the real heroes.

Real heroes are people like Danny Thomas. I grew up watching Danny’s movies and television shows. I looked up to him. Yet, his legacy goes far beyond the screen. He was just one man, yet he believed so strongly in helping others that he founded St. Jude.

Real heroes are the kids of St. Jude who look adversity in the face every day and challenge it; who after experiencing painful treatments comfort their desperate parents.

Real heroes are the staff and volunteers at St. Jude who research and cure, comfort and cry, console and rejoice.

I was struck that the average donation to St. Jude is $30. Hundreds of thousands of everyday heroes give from their hearts and their hard-earned dollars every year to support research and care for kids.

My passion is still basketball. It thrills me every time our young team pulls out a big victory. Yet, just by reading this you are my hero. Perhaps your company has given millions to St. Jude. Perhaps you are a former patient who raised $100 through a bake sale. Maybe you save St. Jude $700 or more every time you donate platelets. Maybe you’ve not yet given. When you do, you’ll be part of a winning team.

Victory is ours.


Michael Heisley is majority owner of the Memphis Grizzlies NBA team and the Heico group of companies. Heisley and the Grizzlies have made a $5 million pledge to sponsor Memphis Grizzlies House at St. Jude, the hospital’s first on-campus short-stay facility for patients and families.

Reprinted from summer 2003 Promise magazine