UPDATE: This post has been restored to its prior length. Thanks.
Tuesday night, the Lions’ annual charity basketball squad swung through Lansing Eastern High School's fieldhouse, for a night of “Harlem Globetrotter-style” hoops, as well as autographs, activities, fundraising, and laughs. Despite this being the 8th annual occurrence of said game, I’d never made it out before—but an invitation from a friend sounded too good to turn down. It was.
When I came in, former Lions Luther Elliss and Cory Schlesinger were “warming up” with a variety of horribly missed trick shots.
The first introduction was Delmas, and he exploded out of a throng of teenaged autograph seekers to slide around, showboat, and call for applause . . . the announcer said “Yes, folks, he will do that all night. He can’t play basketball, but he will do that all night.” The announcer had some fun with Elliss as well, announcing his weight as 340 pounds—and Elliss first sucked in and shook his head, then glumly nodded and extended his belly. Luther's size, though gave him a decided advantage on the tipoff:
By the way: yes, Cory Schlesinger is as wide as he is tall. At first, it looked like the game was going to be a half-serious attempt to play basketball; shortly after it started, the announcer said, "Was that a 2-3 zone? Did you guys actually practice this year?" Thinking it would be "half-serious" was a thought too serious by half. The Lions quickly put in their small lineup:
After the first "half," it was time for autographs and pictures. Each Lion had his own line, though Cliff Avril was initially distracted by the chiropractic display's massage chairs. My two elder kids (the little one had swimming lessons) agreed that Drew Stanton's autograph should be the first we get.
My mother, during Drew's MSU days, taught my daughter to say, "Drew Stanton, what a babe!" whenever he appeared onscreen. This time, though, she held her tongue . . . possibly because of the close proximity of Louis Delmas:
Sorry about the blurry pic, his tatted arms presented too much awesome for one lens to focus on. Next up, Cliff Avril . . . insert similar comment about how I didn’t know I was buying tickets to the gun show, etc.:
After Cliff, the siren song of the other activities was just too much for the kids to keep standing in line. The kids ran off to the basketball court, where the firefighters helped my son slam it home for the first time ever:
She was then joined by a second girl, and after some adorable jaunts up and down the court, they went over to one of the firefighters–as it turns out, he was the other little girl’s dad. They kindly shared their chips.
Eventually, the horn sounded, and some more “basketball” was played. Louis Delmas, so businesslike up until this point, literally let his hair down: All pretenses of competition were dropped in the second half, and having fun became the sole name of the game. Away from the play, a game of Duck, Duck, Goose broke out, and it was such a draw that Cliff Avril took time-out from his second-half-long massage to participate! I tell you this for your own sake: do not challenge Drew Stanton to a game of Duck, Duck, Goose; he will destroy you.
At the end, the Lions assembled all the kids at the halfcourt line, with the firefighters on one side and the Lions on the other. They set up a football play, with Stanton taking a shotgun snap, and Avril going deep. With a borrowed miniball, the Lions faced off against the defense (I see great potential in their 62-2-3 defensive alignment), Stanton took the snap, hit Cliff Avril deep, who then, uh, drove the lane for a touchdunk?
I have to say, this was an amazing time. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but total freeform goofiness was much better than anything I’d imagined. My kids had a blast , as they repeatedly told me, and they were thrilled to meet some real Lions. As a charity fundraiser for a great cause, it was an awesome idea. As a meet-the-Lions photo op, it was far more satisfying than any I’d ever been to.
What blew me away was how awesome all the guys were; they had nothing but big grins and great attitudes all night long. They were incredible with the kids, and had a ball with the firefighters. I thanked Drew Stanton for coming up, and giving my kids an opportunity to see and meet with them, and he replied, “Hey, that’s what it’s all about.”
Even cooler to think about: after the game ended, the Lions drove the hour-plus back home, and were up in time for OTAs the next morning. As awesome as it is that former Lions are staying involved in the Detroit community–Schlesinger is a teacher in Allen Park!–it’s really amazing to me that current pros are taking time out of their “voluntary” workouts, driving all over the state, and helping other communities stay vibrant too. A big tip of the hat to everyone in the organization; stuff like this makes me proud to be a fan, regardless of what happens on the field.