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This one's above and beyond basketball

By Mike DiMauro

Publication: The Day

Published September 27. 2012 4:00AM

This is the story of someone's Warholian 15 minutes. And how it morphed into a narrative of inspiration. And how it reminds us, during this season of playoffs, pigskins and pennant races, that sports are for win or lose, not life or death.

It has particular relevance here on the day the WNBA Playoffs begin and women's basketball goes national again for a few weeks. This is one the nation needs to know: How humanity transcends the rivalry in the country's only two outposts where women's basketball is part of the culture.

Here is the two-minute drill version: A little girl in Niantic asked a man named Don MacKenzie to save an 80-year-old, 17-pound lobster from what would become a date with a bib and butter. And now somewhere around $5,000 has been raised from Connecticut to the Pat Summitt Foundation.

No, really.

You may remember MacKenzie, the owner of Boats Inc. in Niantic. His Warholian 15 minutes came in late July when he learned of "Larry The Lobster," a crustacean about to become someone's dinner at The Dock restaurant in Waterford. MacKenzie isn't even sure the name of the little girl who asked him to spare Larry's life.

MacKenzie became Larry's savior nonetheless, calling him "the most expensive lobster I never ate." He later called Mystic Aquarium to learn the details of how to reintroduce Larry to Long Island Sound.

"I couldn't believe what it evolved into," MacKenzie said. "Talk about your 15 minutes of fame. It's true. ABC Nightly News called, Fox, CBS Radio. I even got a call from radio station Hawaii at 1:30 a.m. I tried to be nice, but asked, 'Hey what time do you guys have out there? It's 1:30 here. He says, 'Ohhhh.'"

Ah, the price of newfound fame. Then came the wave of emails, cards and letters.

"People kept asking, 'How can we help you pay for this?'" MacKenzie said.

That's when happenstance created a most inspiring circumstance. And MacKenzie never saw it coming, working rather innocently one day in his office in the wake of Larry.

"I remembered watching the ESPYS and especially the video tribute to Pat Summitt," he said, alluding to the legendary women's coach from Tennessee who has been diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's disease.

"Then I get first-hand dealing with the disease here one day. I'd never been exposed to it a lot. A lady wandered in here asking to use the phone because her cell phone battery was dead. It wasn't a cell. It was the receiver of a desktop phone. She walked here from Frosty Treat (a hearty walk up Main Street). In the hot sun. That's when I kind of put two and two together."

So he reached out to everyone who reached out to him. He even provided a link on the Boats Inc. web site furthering the story of Larry the Lobster.

"I thought we could send the money to the Pat Summitt Foundation," MacKenzie said. "Look at the lives she's changed. All I asked was that when they sent the money, they included a line about Larry the Lobster. The people at the East Tennessee Foundation (which manages the money for the Pat Summitt Foundation) say, 'Don, this is a really nice thing you did.'"

MacKenzie said somewhere around $5,000 has been sent, even a check from Grady-White, one of the most successful boat-building companies in the world.

The Pat Summitt Foundation might consider a satellite office in Connecticut. It's not just MacKenzie. There's Connecticut Sun guard and proud Tennessee grad Kara Lawson, who pledged $50 before the season began for every 3-point field goal she'd make. It turned out that Lawson set a franchise record with 74. With the help of matching donors, Lawson was responsible for more than $11,000.

She was given a standing ovation last Sunday at Mohegan Sun Arena when the 3-point record was announced.

"Even last year, I did a fundraiser for coach Summitt and the fans here sent me money to send along," Lawson said. "They're so supportive here. It's special to have my best year shooting 3s to make as much money as I can for her. Though the fans here don't know coach Summit personally, I think they understand that player-coach bond. Some of that standing ovation (Sunday) was for the whole story, not just me making 3s."

Pretty good, this tale of lobsters, Lawsons and largesse.

"It's so much above the game," MacKenzie said. "This disease hit Pat Summitt way before her time. I don't know what this is going to do for her, but it's done something. Someone asked me why I thought the whole lobster thing took off so big. I think people were just ready for good news."

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.

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