Most athletes, like most people, are kind and honest and often use their status to help others. Most athletes conduct these acts of kindness every day away from the glare of publicity. But sometimes these acts make their way to the public arena. When this happens they can emotionally move everyone around them.
This was the case of Michigan State University Spartans senior basketball player and Dayton, Ohio, native, Adreian Payne, and his friendship with an 8-year-old cancer patient named Lacey Holsworth. This friendship began when Payne and his Spartan teammates visited children at a Detroit-area children's hospital. Lacey was immediately drawn to the 6-foot, 10-inch senior, she said, because of his smile.
Through the next few months, this connection became unbreakable. Princess Lacey, as she was called, became an unofficial mascot for the team and when her health allowed, attended the Spartans' games, including Senior Night where she was introduced with Payne's family and was carried around the court by the player much to the delight of cheering fans. She was with the team through its successful run in the Big Ten tournament. And she cheered from the stands during the NCAA tournament, where she witnessed Payne's 41-point performance against Delaware in the opening game, and saw the team come up one game short by losing to eventual national champion University of Connecticut.
Lacey's fight against cancer ended April 10, when she died in the arms of her parents. She left behind many devastated people, but especially one basketball player.
Last week, Michigan State coach Tom Izzo told the Detroit Free Press that he talked to a heartbroken Payne about Lacey's death.
"Even though he knew this was inevitable, it's hard," Izzo told the Free Press. "But he took it with the class and dignity that she taught him. I told him, 'Not everybody gets to touch somebody's life like you have. And sometimes other people impact your life, too.'"
Lacey's struggle taught people it is possible to smile and fight, even when the odds are stacked against you. And no doubt discovering something about himself, Payne also taught us a lesson - we can have a positive effect on people's lives if we open enough to try.
Payne may go on to have a successful career in professional basketball. But he already has shown he is a star as a human being.