Rehabilitation from a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee has thus far kept 2013 lottery pick Nerlens Noel from contributing on the court for the Philadelphia 76ers, and may well prevent him from doing so for the entirety of his rookie season. But while he continues to work on getting his knee healthy (and his jumper working), the former Kentucky Wildcats star is still finding ways to make fans' days, whether by busting a move or giving an ailing high-school student the thrill of a lifetime.
WKYT TV has the story of Noel reaching out to young Braxton Upthegrove, the student manager of the basketball team at Henry Clay High School in Lexington, Ky., who is waiting for the second kidney transplant of his 16-year life:
Noel's invitation for Upthegrove and his mom to come up to Philadelphia as his guest for the 76ers' Friday night matchup with the two-time-defending NBA champion Miami Heat came about (as many things do) thanks to the work of a persistent mom, as Mike Fields of the Lexington Herald-Leader details:
"Braxton has been sick since the day he was born, but he never complains," [his mother] Michelle said. "He's on dialysis seven days a week, 10 hours a night, and he's just so happy to get off the machine and go do something.
"Basketball is the love of his life. His favorite teams are the Miami Heat and UK, and he loves LeBron James."
That's why Michelle has been working for two years to arrange for her son to meet James. Make-A-Wish Foundation tried to make it happen, but couldn't.
When Noel took an interest in Braxton last year, things started to happen. Noel and his manager thought about bringing Braxton to the NBA Draft last summer, but that couldn't be worked out.
Everything seemed to be on hold until early this week when Noel and his manager got in touch with Michelle. They hatched a plan off-the-cuff to fly Braxton and his mom to Philadelphia for Friday night's game between the 76ers and the Heat.
Braxton knew nothing about it until the surprise was sprung on him at halftime of the Henry Clay-Bryan Station game Tuesday night.
Pretty decent surprise, huh?
This isn't the first time Noel's made a point of extending himself to do something special for a young person struggling with illness. Before leaving college for the NBA, he brought Kelly Melton, a 7-year-old leukemia patient, as his guest to the 2013 Kentucky Derby. He likes doing stuff like this, but he told Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer back in September that he'd prefer to keep it under his hat (if only he could find enough room under that high-top fade):
"I mean, I'm not really with the glitz and glamour," he said. "I don't do it to be the lead story of ESPN. I'm doing it from the kindness of my heart.
"I want to be able to have that feeling that I'm definitely doing something good with my celebrity status, because that's the main thing."
Yes, it is, and good on you for recognizing that, Nerlens. As to wishing it wouldn't get attention, though ... well, sorry, man, but that's just your tough luck. There's enough awful stuff out there. When awesome stuff happens, it's nice to get to write about it, share it and let folks know about it. Here's hoping you'll find it in your heart to forgive us while spending the weekend playing video games with a teenager whose spirits you've just lifted beyond the telling of it.
Hat-tip to The Sporting News.
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