Memphis Grizzlies are Proof Professional Athletes are Invaluable

By: Christian Dudley (@ChristianDudley)

Some may say professional athletes are overpaid, but really, you cannot place a value on the impact they make on some individuals. The Memphis Grizzlies are a prime example.


Some say professional athletes -- such as NBA stars -- are not worth the paychecks they are bringing home, despite their salaries being a direct correlation of the dollars spent by consumers on merchandise and more.

"Overpaid." "Overvalued."

You have heard it all when it comes to professional sports. However, view the topic from a different perspective.

Meet Shawn Sheppard, Jr., a seven-year-old boy who is as big of a Memphis Grizzlies fan as you will find. Shawn has a birth defect condition called C.D.H., short for Congenital Diaphragmatic Hernia. He has been receiving treatments since birth at Le Bonheur Children's Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee.

Shawn is a huge Memphis Grizzlies fan, much like his parents and two older siblings.

According to his father, "we became fans of the Memphis Grizzlies in the 2010-11 season after stepping into the FedEx Forum for the first time for a Tigers game. An office staff for the Grizzlies led us on a tour of the Forum. Once we were done, we were in the garage and chased down. She ran out with three Marc Gasol bobbleheads. That's where it started," Shawn Sr. explains.

Marc Gasol, now a maximum contract player performing in the third season of a five-year, $110 million deal, is a likable NBA player. Though he is bringing in an unfathomable amount of cash for his skills as a Grizzly, he is very down to earth. Gasol grows his own vegetables in his garden in the warm months. He remains light on the social media front.

The Sheppard family has regularly watched Grizzlies games ever since their tour of the building known as the Grindhouse.

Shawn Jr.'s love for his favorite player, Marc Gasol, has been nearly lifelong. He adores Big Spain, so much that No. 33's first name was the first word Shawn Jr. was able to say.

Receiving treatments frequently since birth, all things Memphis Grizzlies-related has been an escape for Shawn Jr. and his family.

"Watching the games is very helpful, especially between [Shawn Jr.] and Ethan. It gives them time alone and have brother time."

Mary Sheppard, Shawn Jr.'s mother, has some video clips on a tablet of Grizzlies players coming onto the court, name-by-name, prior to the start of a game.

"Shawn will watch it over and over. With everything that goes on, basketball, Shawn dearly loves. His last game was about five years ago," says Shawn Sr.

Gasol and the Grizzlies mean so much to this family and one goal has been to actually meet some of the players -- especially Marc.

"Shawn is a major fan of Disney and Disney characters. When Make-A-Wish sent him on his cruise, his favorite TV characters if you will came to life and he could interact and touch. Now Shawn came home with a new sense of feeling of Disney," describes Shawn Sr.

Given the way in which Shawn Jr. learns and explores, how could he get in touch with one of his loves, the Memphis Grizzlies?

The Grizzlies are constantly in the community, giving back to Memphis and surrounding areas. No matter the season or the reason, you can always count on the Grizzlies to be active when it comes to strengthening the 901.

This past Monday, the Memphis Grizzlies did a full day of community service. Andrew Harrison and Wayne Selden, Jr. took part in a shopping spree at a local Target with youth groups. Mike Conley hosted a "Show Up" event in which kids received Nike shoes of their choice. The majority of the team spent a few hours at Le Bonheur Children's Hospital, visiting patients and gifting toys.

Shawn Sheppard, Jr. just happened to be receiving treatments at Le Bonheur on Monday. Knocking on his door were three players, one of which being his favorite amongst them all. Marc Gasol.

What an opportunity for a child -- and a family -- which receives so much joy from watching the Memphis Grizzlies on television. Now Shawn Jr. was given the chance to interact with Marc, Chandler Parsons, and Deyonta Davis.

A visit was not all that was received. Shawn Jr. was given toys and autographs by the Grizz players, items which will surely remain favorites for a long time to come.

"Now seeing Marc [in-person] and seeing him on TV, [Shawn Jr.] now has a personal bond. The visit right here at Christmas with the toys Marc handed him will give lasting memories. Though his hospital visit was miserable, the Memphis Grizzlies made it very wonderful. Thank you, Marc, Parsons, and Davis."

These moments in which professional athletes can provide are invaluable. NBA players are idols and role models for children and adults alike. Whether the team owns a 6-1 record or struggles with a 9-23 mark, these figures still have the ability to mean the world to a lot of people.

The Memphis Grizzlies have definitely endured their fair share of rough patches this season, but they still provide a positive escape for some who may be going through even greater struggles. That is something of which you cannot place a price tag.

This was truly a Christmas miracle for Shawn Jr. and the Sheppard family, just days before Shawn's eighth birthday.

For the Memphis Grizzlies, this is business as usual.

Go Grizz!

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