The group included Hall of Famers, Gold Medalists, World Champions and philanthropists in front of a crowd of over 1,500 supporters tonight at the New York Hilton Midtown. Of great note, millions were raised at the Fund’s 33rd Annual Great Sports Legends Dinner for groundbreaking spinal cord injury research.
The Great Sports Legends Dinner honored Alex Rodriguez, World Series Champion with the New York Yankees and one of the greatest professional baseball players of all-time; Ray Allen, basketball legend and two-time NBA Champion and member of the Naismith Hall of Fame; Bob Griese, member of the undefeated 1972 Miami Dolphins and two-time Super Bowl Champion; Mike Smith, Hall of Fame jockey who recently rode Justify to the Triple Crown; Brian Boitano, Gold Medal figure skater; and Amy Purdy, the most decorated U.S. Paralympic Snowboarder and actress, author and motivational speaker.
In addition to the Sports Legends, two special awards were given: Ignacio “Nacho” Figueras, a prodigious philanthropist, top male model and one of the greatest polo players of all time, received The Buoniconti Fund’s 2018 Philanthropist Award. Chris Evert, a noted humanitarian and tennis Hall of Famer who won 18 Grand Slam Singles Championships and three Grand Slam Doubles Championships, was conferred The Buoniconti Fund’s 2018 Humanitarian Award.
The evening, presented by the Tudor Group, was hosted by NFL Hall of Famer Nick Buoniconti and his son Marc, chaired by Mark Dalton, and emceed by NBC Sports personality Bob Costas. The Grammy Award-winning disco and funk group KC and the Sunshine Band performed live to a raucous crowd of supporters.
The annual dinner serves to benefit The Buoniconti Fund to Cure Paralysis, the fundraising arm of The Miami Project to Cure Paralysis. The Miami Project, a designated Center of Excellence at the University of Miami’s Miller School of Medicine, is the world’s most comprehensive spinal cord injury research center.
An inspiring highlight of the evening came during Marc Buoniconti’s remarks, when he told the stories of three young men who were paralyzed as the result of accidents. Thanks to pioneering treatments developed by The Miami Project’s researchers, all three are walking again; in fact all three walked on the stage to a standing ovation. Miami philanthropists Alitza and Caroline Weiss were so moved by the evening that they donated an astounding $500,000 to The Buoniconti Fund.
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Another surprise during the program occurred when Mr. Costas presented Miami Project Co-Founder and world-renowned neurosurgeon, Dr. Barth Green and Terry Buoniconti with Special Tribute Awards for their lifetime devotion to the cause and for their continuing impact in the fight to find a cure for paralysis.
“We can no longer allow people to become paralyzed and not have an answer for them. This dinner and all the support we get from this spectacular group of Legends, Honorees and supporters is the fuel and inspiration we need to Stand Up For Those Who Can’t as we strive to cure paralysis once and for all,” said Marc Buoniconti, President of The Buoniconti Fund. In fact, NFL Hall of Famer Harry Carson took the stage to share his story of once being paralyzed and now, he is dedicates his time to Standing Up For Those Who Can’t!
Among the notables in attendance were multi-talented singer, actress, and entertainer Jennifer Lopez, former Sports Legends Honorees, including: New York Giants Hall of Famer Harry Carson; 1968 Olympic long jump Gold medalist and past Sports Legend honoree Bob Beamon; baseball Hall of Famer and past Sports Legend honoree Andre “The Hawk” Dawson; professional surfer and model Anastasia Ashley; 10-time Olympic swimming medalist and five-time Gold Medalist Gary Hall, Jr.; Buoniconti Fund Board Member and a vital member of the 1972 Miami Dolphins ‘Perfect Team’ Dick Anderson; actor and director from Eight Men Out and Lonesome Dove DB Sweeny; Scott Erickson, who pitched a no-hitter and was a World Series Champion with the Minnesota Twins; longtime Miami Dolphins receiver Nat Moore; two-time Super Bowl Champion and Super Bowl MVP with the Redskins Mark Rypien; two-time Formula One World Champion and two-time Indianapolis 500 Champion and CART championship racecar driver Emerson Fittipaldi; actor from the films Something Borrowed and The Client List Colin Egglesfield; retired NHL center for the Rangers and Islanders Chris Ferraro; anchor from WNBC-TV Adam Kuperstein; former Miami Dolphins running back Tommy Vigorito; New York Jets offensive lineman Brent Qvale; Monica Aksamit, USA fencer who won Team Bronze in the 2016 Rio Olympics; former quarterback for the Atlanta Falcons and Buffalo Bills Leo Hart; and “celebrity disher and red carpet man about town” Tom Murro and foodie magician Josh Beckerman.
Since its inception in 1985, the Great Sports Legends Dinner has honored more than 350 sports legends and humanitarians and has raised more than $120 million for The Miami Project’s spinal cord injury research programs. The Miami Project-Buoniconti Fund to Cure Paralysis is committed to finding a cure for paralysis resulting from spinal cord injury and to seeing millions worldwide walk again.
Event sponsors included: Tudor Group, Carnival Corporation & PLC and the Carnival Foundation, HBO Sports, Tiffany & Co., Barton G, the R&B Company, SOL INVESTMENTS CORP., Badia Spices, and American Airlines.
Sports Legends Alumni include Michael Jordan, Willie Mays, Earvin “Magic” Johnson, Tony Hawk, Tommy Lee Jones, Cal Ripken, Jr., Gloria Estefan, Jack Nicklaus, Wayne Gretzky, George Foreman, Julio Iglesias, Helio Castroneves, Troy Aikman, Joe DiMaggio, Muhammad Ali, Mario Andretti, Joe Namath, Pedro Martinez, Mariano Rivera, Hakeem Olajuwon, Dan Marino, Lenny Wilkens, Mike Piazza, Pat Riley, Kelly Slater, Phil Collins, Joe Torre, Maya Angelou, Andre Agassi, Shaquille O’Neal, Tom Brokaw, and many other athletes and heroes – all of whom recognize that paralyzing injuries can and do occur in the pursuit of athletic careers and everyday lives.
Photo credit: 1) Jennifer Lopez. 2) Chris Evert. 3) Group. 4) Ray Allen and Alex Rodriguez 5) Mike Smith. 6) Delfina Blaquier and Ignacio “Nacho” Figueras. 7) Jennifer Lopez, Marc Buoniconti, and Alex Rodriguez. 8) Jennifer Lopez and Alex Rodriguez.