As my colleague Eric Freeman noted last month, Indiana Pacers center Roy Hibbert has long since earned a place in Pacers fans' hearts for his willingness to connect with them in interesting ways, like starting a 7-footer-friendly cheering section called Area 55 and inviting members out for a private game of Laser Tag. His affability and relationship to Indy's fan base likely wasn't a prime factor in the team's decision to match a four-year, $58 million offer sheet to keep Hibbert patrolling the Pacers' paint, but it probably didn't hurt, and his return sure made a lot of Pacers fans happy.
Now, Hibbert's going to make them proud. The rest of us, too.
According to Mike Wells at the Indianapolis Star, a 12-year-old fan in Sacramento, Calif., named Lee Eddins was really looking forward to seeing Hibbert, "his idol," in person when the Pacers stopped in town to play the Sacramento Kings in November. Unfortunately, young Lee is not well.
Diagnosed with stage four leukemia six months ago, Lee has been told he might only have a couple of weeks left to live.
So Hibbert has planned a special surprise. Later this week, he is flying to Sacramento to meet Lee.
"Once I heard he had a dying wish, I knew I had to do something more than send him presents and Skype with him on the computer," Hibbert said.
We certainly don't want to denigrate such forms of communication — I'm sure that distraught young New York Knicks fan certainly appreciated the opportunity to video-chat with departed star Jeremy Lin — but still, this is really a sensational gesture by Hibbert. Especially considering, as the center told Wells, he's "usually uncomfortable going to hospitals when the Pacers do events because it's pretty tough to see kids in that situation."
Hibbert said that while he's visiting with Lee, who was moved to hospice care last week, he also "plans to have his mouth swabbed to see if he's a bone marrow match." Unlikely, sure, but worth a shot. Whether he is or isn't, if Hibbert can provide a few moments of happiness during a difficult time, he will have had a positive impact on a young person in need of one; that in and of itself is an amazing service to be able to perform, for any of us.
Between Hibbert taking a trip out to spend some time with an ill young fan and Memphis Grizzlies big man Marc Gasol sitting down for a tea party with young patients at St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital earlier this year, every person with a beating heart in the world should now have at least one center for whom to root in each of the NBA's two conferences. I know I do.
Hat-tip to SLAM.
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