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Memphis Grizzlies player Marko Jaric was taking on all challengers at the foosball game in the family room, while team mate Greg Buckner was signing Grizzlies’ book bags and taking photos with kids.
On the outdoor half-court at Memphis Grizzlies House, fellow Grizzlies Marc Gasol and O.J. Mayo were going one-on-one to create NBA-sized memories for the patients and families of St. Jude.
The players were part of a special celebration February 5 to mark the fifth anniversary of the opening of Memphis Grizzlies House, a short-term residence for the families of St. Jude. Joining the players were patient families, members of the Grizzlies organization and leaders of the ALSAC/St. Jude Boards of Directors and Governors. Special guests included Joseph Laver, MD, clinical director and executive vice president of St. Jude; basketball coaching legend Gene Bartow; and Kemmons Wilson Jr. of Wilson Hotel Corporation, which manages Memphis Grizzlies House.
“You call this the Grizzlies House,” said Camille Sarrouf Sr., chairman of the St. Jude Board of Governors, to the crowd filling the facility’s dining room. “But there is no question in anyone’s mind that this is a home.”
Located on the St. Jude campus, Memphis Grizzlies House provides comfortable housing for patients, and their families, who are undergoing short-term treatment, usually one to seven days, at the hospital. Combined with the mid- and long-term housing provided at Ronald McDonald House of Memphis and Target House, St. Jude is able to ensure that out-of-town patients and their families do not need to be housed in hotels during treatment. The Memphis Grizzlies House can accommodate up to 100 families at a time, with 64 hotel-style rooms and 36 suites. Among the amenities for guests are recreation and family areas, as well as rooms specifically designed for use by parents, teenagers, preteens and young children.
The residence grew out of a partnership between the Grizzlies and St. Jude, after the NBA team moved to Memphis from Vancouver in 2001. Grizzlies players began visiting with St. Jude patients, and the team hosted special St. Jude game nights and donated game tickets to St. Jude families. In September 2002, the Grizzlies pledged $5 million toward construction of the $10 million Memphis Grizzlies House.
“I can’t believe five years has passed,” noted David L. McKee, chief operating officer and interim CEO of ALSAC, as he welcomed guests to the celebration. He pointed out that the partnership with the Grizzlies “goes deeper than the house,” mentioning the Grizzlies’ on-going support through team and individual player visits and donations. “They truly bought into the cause, into the lifesaving work of St. Jude.”
Richard C. Shadyac Jr., chairman of the ALSAC Board of Directors, praised Grizzlies owner Michael Heisley for his commitment to the Memphis community and to St. Jude in particular. “In January of 2004, the doors opened, and this has continued to be a home away from home for our patients and their families,” he said. “I thank each and every one of you for making a difference in the life of a child.”
St. Jude and ALSAC leadership presented the Grizzlies with a plaque honoring the partnership between the Grizzlies and St. Jude and recognizing the five-year milestone of Memphis Grizzlies House. “We want you to know that you are very much a part of the treatment and care of the children here,” said Dr. William Evans, CEO and director of St. Jude. “Thank you for your generosity.”
Accepting the plaque for the Grizzlies was Greg Campbell, president of business operations, who spoke directly to the families, saying he and the team hoped that Grizzlies House gave them a place of comfort and rest and warmth. Then he left it to the Grizzlies mascot to bring home the message of hope at the heart of St. Jude.
Eric McMahon, the alter ego of the Grizz mascot, returned this season to root for the team after fighting his own battle with Hodgkin lymphoma last year. As he bounded into the room to the cheers of children, he pumped his arms in the air and proudly displayed his jersey. It bore the words “Cancer Survivor.”