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VOL. 127 | NO. 229 | Thursday, November 22, 2012

Grizzlies Ramp Up Charitable Efforts as Holidays Begin

By Don Wade

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On the court, the Grizzlies have given away next to nothing. They reeled off an eight-game winning streak. Night after night, 48 minutes at a time, they have been stingy – selfish, even.

Zach Randolph of the Memphis Grizzlies distributes holiday food baskets at Carver High School as part of the team’s Season of Giving. Randolph is just one of several players who take time in the community.

(Photo Courtesy of Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images)

But off the court, the Grizzlies have embraced this holiday season of giving as though it, too, were a competition. This month, they haven’t just been making baskets but giving them away hundreds at a time: Zach Randolph distributing food baskets to families from Carver and Booker T. Washington high schools; Rudy Gay passing out foodstuffs at The Pursuit of God Power Center; and Quincy Pondexter’s food basket give-away at New Direction Christian Church/Power Center Academy as part of his ongoing “Random Acts of Q-Ness.”

“I’ve had the pleasure of working with some really great guys over the years,” said Teresa Dickerson, the team’s director of community investment, who said the food basket giveaways will result in the feeding of 1,700 families. “And I can honestly say this is the most charitable group.”

Pondexter, for instance, came to Dickerson at the start of the season and said, “Teresa, I want to do everything.”

So in October, he gave away pumpkins. This month, it’s food baskets and in December it will be Christmas trees. Randolph has been distributing turkeys from Memphis to his hometown of Marion, Ind., tweeting recently, “5 annual turkey (a)nd Ham give away its a beautiful thing its all abt giving bac”

Pondexter said he wants to break barriers, adding, “I want kids to see a real-life NBA player as a true role model. I want to get out in the community and be more than just a basketball player, someone that is more like your neighbor.”

The Grizzlies have proved to be good neighbors since moving here in 2001 from Vancouver. In 2004, the franchise formed the Grizzlies Charitable Foundation and it has won several prestigious awards, including the 2012 “Sport Team of the Year” honor from London-based Beyond Sport. The team’s on-court performance and off-court performance are simultaneously as strong as they have ever been.

“As an 11-year veteran of the Memphis Grizzlies, I wish I could bottle this feeling,” said foundation executive director Jenny Koltnow, who has facilitated the donation of more than $28 million in charitable grants.

Interested in partnering with the Grizzlies and becoming a mentor to youth? Go to www.grizzliesteamup.org. 

Want to keep up with Quincy Pondexter’s “Random Acts of Q-Ness?” Follow him on Twitter @QuincyPondexter

The Sport Team of the Year award application included several highlights. Among them: various youth mentoring efforts with local corporate backing and a partnership with St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. In sum, more than 25,000 youth are served each year through various combined efforts.

On Jan. 26, the Grizzlies will hold their ninth annual Staxtacular, the largest fundraising event of the year to benefit the Stax Music Academy. Randolph, Tony Allen and Mike Conley will serve as hosts; Conley also serves on the Grizzlies Charitable Foundation’s board of directors.

“Sponsorships for (Staxtacular) are off the charts,” Koltnow said. “That’s where you see, wow, the team’s playing well and that’s beneficial for our partners.”

Meantime, Dickerson is trying to keep up with all the week-to-week and month-to-month events. In January, Randolph is again donating $20,000 to help people pay their utility bills. In February, Allen is hosting a Valentine’s party for women at a local homeless shelter. Josh Selby and his mother are distributing 200 pairs of shoes to kids. Grizz newcomer Jerryd Bayless recently attended a block party in the Douglass community of Memphis and played basketball with people.

“And then he took his shoes off, gave them to a young man, and left barefoot,” Dickerson said, still amazed.

Dickerson says other examples of the players’ generosity she can’t share; sometimes they swear her to secrecy. One reason players are so willing to help out, Dickerson believes, is the example set by coach Lionel Hollins. He has an annual bowling for backpacks event and at Christmas he donates hundreds of bikes.

On Monday, Nov. 19, the Grizzlies finally lost their second game of the season and afterward Hollins mentioned all the recent national publicity the team had been getting, adding, “There’s a responsibility that comes with being really good. You’ve got to go out there and prove it every night.”

Koltnow looks at the new opportunities created by the team’s on-court success and feels the same way.

“Our level of accountability,” she said, “is greater than ever.”

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