Grizzlies’ Mike Conley Bowling to Raise Sickle Cell Awareness

By Don Wade

Mike Conley grew up around cousins who had sickle cell disease. He didn’t understand much about it then, but he saw the impact. Years later, he continues to see it and continues to try and do his part to fight it.

Memphis Grizzlies’ point guard Mike Conley is hosting his 10th Annual Mike Conley Bowl-N-Bash Saturday, Sept. 15, at Billy Hardwick’s All-Star Lanes. The event benefits the Methodist Comprehensive Sickle Cell Center. Conley grew up with cousins who had sickle cell disease. “I became invested in trying to understand it better and trying to beat it.” (Daily News file)

“They have good and bad days still,” said Conley, the Memphis Grizzlies’ point guard. “I became invested in trying to understand it better and trying to beat it. There’s not a lot of awareness.”

September is Sickle Cell Awareness Month. This year marks the 10th Annual Mike Conley Bowl-N-Bash, to be held Saturday, Sept. 15, at Billy Hardwick’s All-Star Lanes at White Station and Quince. The event is sold out with all proceeds benefitting the Methodist Comprehensive Sickle Cell Center.

Another event, “THE BASH,” is being held Friday night at Roadshow BMW at 405 N. Germantown Parkway. It also benefits Methodist Comprehensive Sickle Cell Center and will include a VIP reception from 6:30 to 7 p.m. with the event stretching to 10 p.m. and featuring other Grizzlies players, coaches, front-office personnel and various local celebrities.

Tickets are $100 and can be purchased here. The event also will include a DJ, silent auction with exclusive sports memorabilia, a photo booth, gourmet food provided by Jim’s Place and beer and wine.

Sickle cell disease (SCD) affects about 100,000 Americans, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. SCD occurs among about one out of 365 black or African-American births. And about one in 13 black or African-American babies is born with sickle cell trait. Sickle cell disease is a group of inherited red blood cell disorders. If both parents have sickle cell trait, there is a 50 percent chance that any child of theirs also will have the trait.

Pain is the most common complication of sickle cell disease and the number one reason people with SCD seek help at hospital emergency rooms, according to the CDC.

While Conley’s events in Memphis span a period of less than 24 hours, he says, “We get donations well beyond the event. And this disease doesn’t stop. My teammates, coaches, and management have all been great about coming out and supporting.”

Conley says he is “feeling great” with training camp due to start on Sept. 25. He played just 12 games last season because of a heel injury that required surgery. Conley, who turns 31 in October, has not played 70 games in a season since 2014-15.

The basketball gods have not been kind.

“They owe me a solid,” he said. “Over all these years, I’ve done all the right things.”

Two seasons ago when he played in 69 games and the Grizzlies made the playoffs a seventh straight time, he averaged a career-best 20.5 points per game and shot a career-high 40.8 percent from 3-point range.

More times than not, the Grizzlies go as Mike Conley goes. Without him almost all of last season, they finished with a 22-60 record. But with No. 4 overall draft pick Jaren Jackson Jr. in the fold, along with second-round guard Jevon Carter and veteran offseason acquisitions in swingman Kyle Anderson, guards Shelvin Mack and Garrett Temple and forward Omri Casspi, Conley is optimistic.

Also, the team starts the year with J.B. Bickerstaff as head coach; Bickerstaff earned the job after serving as interim coach last season following the firing of David Fizdale.

“If you were in the arena, you would see there is a difference in everybody’s demeanor,” said Conley, who has been in town awhile and playing some 5-on-5. “We feel like we’re a good team.”

Forward Chandler Parsons was added to the team before the 2016-17 season to provide another scoring option. Injuries severely limited his contributions two years ago and somewhat last season. But Conley says Parsons, too, is entering training camp healthy. Potentially, Conley and center Marc Gasol could have a lot more help in the upcoming season.

Many fans, however, remain wary. The injuries have been almost constant for the Grizzlies and last season was a lost cause by early December when they stood 7-15 following an 11-game losing streak.

Conley’s message to doubting fans: “We’ve got a lot of reasons not to be skeptical. Healthy me, healthy Chandler. We have a good mix.”

Meantime, the first real competition will be at the bowling lanes. Conley says that “back in my day, I was 190ish.” He may not roll a 190 now, but he also doesn’t expect any of his teammates to beat him. Even though bowling is now just a once-a-year fundraising endeavor.

“It would have been Vince Carter,” Conley said of the former Grizzly/potential challenger at the lanes. “He’s the only one that had more bowling balls than me. That kind of scared me.”