By Lin Sue Flood

It was a slam dunk surprise for a senior community when the Phoenix Suns Gorilla popped in for a visit. The team mascot wanted to thank a hospice patient for being a devoted fan for over 50 years. He bounded into ClearWater Pinnacle Peak with arms full of team swag for 88-year-old Lee Kragenbring.

“Lee has been struggling with health challenges of late and we wanted to bring him a little joy,” says Hospice of the Valley social worker Renee Adams. “I genuinely haven’t seen him this happy ever, not to mention the smiles on his family’s faces. Many high fives were given!”

The visit astounded the season ticket holder who has attended more games than he can count. Though he no longer speaks, Kragenbring was grinning ear to ear as the Gorilla entertained the crowd of 50 residents with backflips and dance moves. Cheers broke out as he walked across the room on his hands.

The last time Kragenbring went to a game was right after he’d been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. “I just wanted to give him one last experience before he couldn’t go anymore,” says Kragenbring’s daughter, Kim Kulpins. “When Renee approached me about making this happen, I thought, ‘No way — not during the basketball season!’ This is so touching and incredible. I’m grateful that the Suns care about my dad.”

“It’s moments like this when it’s hard to tell who receives more joy,” Adams adds. “The patient or those of us who love and care for him?”

When Hospice of the Valley reached out to see if a visit might be possible, Phoenix Suns Charity Manager Josh McCann didn’t monkey around — he made it happen almost immediately. “We appreciate the hospice team letting us know about this gentleman and for having us visit,” he says. “We couldn’t wait!”

After all the “hoop”-la, Kragenbring had a lot more team memorabilia to add to his impressive collection, which features a signed ball from the ’93 season.

But the Gorilla’s true gift was something far more precious — lasting memories of a most special day. Shazam!

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