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October 30, 2014

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Photos: George Lopez and Tony La Russa and fellow sports stars make it a legendary night in L.V.

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Tom Donoghue/DonoghuePhotography.com

Tony La Russa’s inaugural Leaders and Legends Gala hosted by George Lopez and featuring La Russa, Louis Zamperini, ,Jim Brown, Bob Gibson, Dennis Eckersley, George Brett, John Havlicek, Don Nelson, Bobby Knight, Joe Torre and more at MGM Grand on Friday, Nov. 16, 2012.

Tony La Russa's Inaugural Leaders and Legends Gala

Tony La Russa's inaugural Leaders and Legends Gala hosted by George Lopez and featuring La Russa, Louis Zamperini, ,Jim Brown, Bob Gibson, Dennis Eckersley, George Brett, John Havlicek, Don Nelson, Bobby Knight, Joe Torre and more at MGM Grand on Friday, Nov. 16, 2012. Launch slideshow »

By Tom Donoghue, contributing photographer

Friday night was quite possibly the greatest night in Las Vegas sports history in Studio Ballrooms A and B at MGM Grand, as Tony La Russa of St. Louis Cardinals and Oakland A’s coaching fame held his inaugural Leaders and Legends Gala benefiting his Animal Rescue Foundation. Comedian and actor George Lopez was the host, and approximately 300 attended the dinner and auction, but the real magic followed the dinner when La Russa invited Louis Zamperini to the stage to tell a few stories.

The true American hero spoke of unbelievable grit and courage. Louis Silvie Zamperini, 95, is a World War II prisoner-of-war survivor and Olympic distance runner who roomed with Jesse Owens at the 1936 Summer Olympics in Germany. His Green Hornet crashed in the Pacific Ocean and was adrift for 47 days before being captured by the Japanese.

His stories captivated the room, but the best was yet to come. La Russa then invited a few of his celebrity guests to the stage to “sit around and tell stories.” Mike Tirico called this hour “unprecedented” in anything he has ever witnessed. Here there were nine legends sitting onstage in Las Vegas telling stories of days gone by, some stories of their game they had never revealed before.

There were Hall of Famers Jim Brown, Bob Gibson, Dennis Eckersley, George Brett, John Havlicek, Don Nelson and Bobby Knight and two HOFers-to-be in Joe Torre and La Russa. Each told two, three, four stories of special moments in their game. Eckersley revealed on that final pitch to Kurt Gibson that it was La Russa who called for the slider.

Brown talked about never once did he ever run out of bounds to avoid a hit, and Gibson told of his hatred for All-Star Games, as he then had to be “nice to the players” whom he attacked throughout the season. Knight’s stories were priceless. The room was alive with excitement, and everyone knew this was something very special.

In all my 40 some odd years shooting sports, I have never witnessed this much passion, love and heartfelt feelings about the games in the world of sports. You could see how it touched the audience, which included soccer star Mia Hamm, Chicago Bulls and Chicago White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf and MGM President and COO Scott Sibella.

It was quite possibly the greatest night in Las Vegas sports history.

Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past decade giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.

Follow Robin Leach on Twitter at Twitter.com/Robin_Leach.

Follow Vegas DeLuxe on Twitter at Twitter.com/vegasdeluxe.

Follow VDLX Editor Don Chareunsy on Twitter at Twitter.com/VDLXEditorDon.

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