MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The most impactful thing the Utah Jazz did during their stay in Tennessee earlier this week wasn’t on a basketball court. Monday’s 104-94 loss to the Grizzlies was just one of 82 games, after all.
It didn’t take place on the famous Beale Street, Graceland or at one of the famous BBQ and fried chicken restaurants in this Southern culinary hotspot, either.
Rather, the most memorable and meaningful moment happened at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
That’s where 21-year-old Enes Kanter lost multiple board games to young kids, 30-year-old Mike Harris had his gingerbread house creation critiqued by people half his size, and Jazz players were emotionally touched while visiting with young hospital patients and their families Sunday afternoon.
St. Jude treats children from around the world who are battling cancer and other life-threatening diseases, and the Jazz were honored to drop in after arriving in Memphis on Sunday afternoon at the end of their five-city road trip.
“It was pretty good seeing those kids, hearing some stories about those kids. It’s really touching, you know?” Kanter said. “We went there so they can have fun, but we had fun, too. It was pretty nice.”
Kanter didn’t even mind that a 6-year-old girl beat him in “Candyland,” as he was reminded multiple times before Monday's game. To his defense, the crafty patient got off to a big head start before the Jazz center figured out that he was supposed to go. It was, he pointed out, only the second time he'd played that particular game.
“She stole the first three turns,” Jazz trainer Gary Briggs said, laughing. “And he didn’t realize it.”
“It’s cool, though,” Kanter said.
There was some dispute amongst the Jazz whether Kanter won any of the games he played against the kids, but he swears he defeated a little boy in “Connect It.”
“I beat him once,” he said. “He beat me twice.”
“You won none,” Briggs retorted.
“I promise,” Kanter said. “I beat one.”
Another lighthearted controversy broke out during Sunday’s visit, the second time during the holidays that the Jazz have spent time at a hospital.
Harris kept busy entertaining — and being entertained by — a Spanish-speaking family with four girls, ranging in ages from 2 to 8, including hospitalized 4-year-old Yasida.
Kids and Jazz players built gingerbread houses with colored paper and stickers, and Harris was feeling pretty good about the home he built — that is until a young expert let him know his creation needed help. A lot of help.
“Mine,” Harris was told, “was supposedly the worst one.”
For one thing, Harris forgot to put a door on the home. That didn’t sit well with his young friends. And, really, were the gingerbread family members supposed to climb through the window to get into the house?
“Once I got the door, I thought everything was beautiful,” Harris said. “She decided otherwise. One of the little girls decided that mine wasn’t that good, so she took over my house. After I finished the final project, she decided to make a couple of renovations, but it turned out pretty good.”
Harris had the three girls sign their names on the back of his gingerbread house.
He then spent time playing catch with the youngest, 2-year-old Melanie.
“She just wanted to play basketball,” he said. “We just bounced the basketball back (and forth) after we got done with the houses. It was fun.”
Harris also got a suprise when he found out that a couple of girls actually spoke English. They let him know that right before the Jazz left.
“The whole time I was sitting there speaking Spanish. (I kept) forgetting a couple of words here and there and she spoke English the whole time,” he said. “She was just making fun of me.”
Harris, as you might imagine, couldn’t stop laughing as he recanted stories about the hospital visit.
“It was unbelievable,” he said. “I love helping children, and to be able to do something like that around Christmastime with the kids and stuff, it does wonders.”
Gordon Hayward loved seeing the kids’ faces when they interacted with tall basketball players.
"It was cool seeing them smile," the 6-foot-8 shooting guard said. "Everyone always doesn’t think we’re as tall as we are, so it’s always cool when they’re looking up to (you). We look like giants probably compared to them."
Hayward thought it was neat to learn that the medical care and groundbreaking research at this world-renowned medical facility is funded through donations. No family pays for a child's care received there.
"It puts everything in perspective for you, for sure. Those guys are going through a lot,' he said. "St. Jude is a pretty amazing facility."
Some kids and their families, no doubt, will remember a pretty amazing afternoon with their new favorite basketball players.
"(I’m) very grateful for everything that I have, truly blessed," Harris said. "Just to give back an hour or an hour and half to kids who are going to cherish that moment means a lot."
Here's hoping Harris gets better at building gingerbread houses and Kanter improves his "Candyland" skills before their next potential visit.
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