Looking up at the national championship banners in Pauley Pavilion, Dr. Michael Levine told the crowd that one day he hoped to hang a victory banner in the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center.
The opponent? Huntington’s disease.
Organized by the Huntington’s Disease Society of America and UCLA, the second annual HDSA L.A. Hoop-A-Thon took place in Pauley Pavilion on Friday night. The event seeks to educate the community and raise funding for research to find a cure for the disorder.
UCLA men’s basketball coach Ben Howland and his wife Kim Howland served as honorary co-chairs of the event. Four years ago, Kim Howland’s father died after a lengthy battle with the disease.
“It’s a personal thing being that my father-in-law died of Huntington’s disease,” Ben Howland said. “I’m really appreciative of everybody who’s shown up and supported this.”
Huntington’s disease is a degenerative brain disorder that diminishes an individual’s ability to walk, talk and reason, and children of someone with the disease have a 50 percent chance of inheriting it from their parent.
Along with Ben Howland and the current men’s basketball team, several former Bruins made the trip back to Westwood to lend their support.
“It gives me a feeling of pride for how much these guys would do to show how much they care for others,” Ben Howland said. “These guys are some of the greatest players in the world, and they’re here giving their time and giving back.”
Ben Howland said the idea for the Hoop-A-Thon came from the NFL’s San Diego Chargers, who have also partnered with Huntington’s Disease Society of America.
Former UCLA guard Arron Afflalo, who helped lead UCLA to back-to-back Final Four appearances in 2006 and 2007, attended the event for a second year.
“It’s a concern, and obviously any money raised to slow it down and find a cure for it is beneficial,” said Afflalo, who currently plays for the Denver Nuggets. “Any reason I can come out and support, especially for something like this, and also get a chance to interact with some of the Bruin family is definitely something I look forward to.”
Dr. John Mazziotta, chair of the UCLA Department of Neurology, along with Levine and Dr. Yvette Bordelon, spoke to the crowd of more than 400 people regarding the research on Huntington’s disease that takes place at UCLA.
“Of the degenerative diseases of the brain … we know more about Huntington’s and therefore are closer to finding effective treatments,” Mazziotta said. “But understanding something about one of these diseases provides insights into all of the diseases, so investments in this benefit Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and vice versa.”
When not interacting with former and current basketball players or sampling the food from local restaurants, attendees had a chance to work toward a cure by placing a bid on items up for silent auction.
Jerseys signed by former UCLA basketball players Trevor Ariza and Kevin Love as well as other memorabilia autographed by current Los Angeles Lakers teammates Ron Artest and Kobe Bryant were just a few of the many sports collectibles that people could bid on.
Craig Fuher attended the event with his 13-year-old son William and got to meet several former and current UCLA players.
“The fact that (Ben Howland) can get the other players to come back and show their support is tremendous,” Fuher said. “It tells an awful lot about those players and the closeness that they have with each other and the program.”
The Hoop-A-Thon derives its name from the speed free-throw competition, which took place at the end of the night and featured 27 teams of 10 people each.
UCLA women’s basketball coach Nikki Caldwell fielded a team with the rest of the women’s basketball coaching staff in an effort to support Ben Howland.
“He’s just been such a great inspiration, so obviously we talk X’s and O’s and we talk strategy, but from a personal level, this is something that’s dear to coach Howland and Kim,” Caldwell said. “This is a small way for us to show our support to him and all that he’s meant to our program.”
When the buzzer sounded and the free throws had been tallied, Team Nestle 1 defeated Team Minzer in the final round and took home first place, as well as 10 tickets to UCLA basketball games for the upcoming season.
But the real winner of the night wasn’t decided by how many free throws were made. It was decided by the generosity of everyone who came out in support of finding a cure.
For more information about Huntington’s disease, please visit hdsala.org.