Pat Higgins | Asst. Sports Editor
After complaining of back pain while dancing, 8 year-old Michigan State basketball super fan Lacey Holdsworth was diagnosed with neuroblastoma, an aggressive form of childhood cancer, on Dec. 28, 2011. When doctors found a football-sized tumor in her abdomen that wrapped around her spine and paralyzed her two days later, they said she had two weeks left to live. But after three to four days of chemotherapy, the tumor dissipated to soft tissue, and Lacey was deemed a miracle in the making.
A month after her diagnosis, the Michigan State basketball team visited Holdsworth. As the team gathered around Holdsworth in her hospital bed, she wanted only one player to remain – 6-foot-10 center Adreian Payne. From there, the cutest little blonde-haired girl you’ve ever seen forged a relationship with the tallest player on Michigan State’s roster because she liked his smile.
He visited her in the hospital. She came to his games. He lifted her up to dunk basketballs. “She accompanied him on the court on March 6 at the Spartans’ Senior Night and helped him cut down the nets after Michigan State’s B1G Ten Championship on March 16.
On April 7, Lacey lost her battle to cancer and now dances among angels.
“Words can’t express how much I already miss Lacey,” Payne said in a statement last Tuesday. “She is my sister, and will always be a part of my life. She taught me how to fight through everything with a smile on my face even when things were going wrong. I’m a better man because of her. She said she first liked me because of my smile, but it’s her smile that made America fall in love with her. I know she’s smiling and dancing in heaven right now. My princess is now an angel.”
Adreian Payne stands 6-foot-10 and weighs 245 pounds. He can jump out of the building and is a projected first-round pick in next month’s NBA Draft. But Lacey Holdsworth was stronger in the last two years and a half years of her life than most can ever imagine.
People often say sports are trivial. Men are paid millions of dollars to play boy’s games. But sports matter and that has nothing to do with anything that happens between the base lines or on the gridiron.
Ten days after 9/11, 50,000 people packed into Shea Stadium for the first baseball game since the attacks to find comfort among others. Two days after last year’s bombings at the Boston Marathon, the crowd at TD Bank Garden for the Bruins’ game against the New Jersey Devils delivered one of the most powerful renditions of the Star-Spangled Banner I’ve ever listened to and gave victims, friends and family affected in any way something to smile about and somewhere to seek shelter when all else seemed broken. When the Saints returned to the Superdome a year after Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans won, at least for a night.
Sports give us reasons to smile. They offer temporary distraction and teach us that no matter what, we’ll always have a place to find something in common with a complete stranger.
For us, sports gave us the chance to root for Lacey in her fight, to take in her infectious smile and to learn a thing or two from her vigorous energy even when life dealt her a crappy set of cards at the ripe age of five.
For Adreian Payne, sports gave him the most beautiful sister he could’ve ever imagined.