Nearly four years ago, I was just a fan and one of your half-a-million Instagram followers. Nonetheless, I decided to sit down and write you a very long message. When I pressed send, I didn’t expect you to respond at all. My parents warned me not to get my hopes up. They explained to me that as an NBA player you probably receive hundreds of messages a day and my note would most likely get lost in the mix.
They didn’t want me to get disappointed but I thought to myself, “Why not? It’s worth a shot.”
I wanted to thank you for publicly sharing your diagnosis of Crohn’s disease, giving the disease a face and showing kids like me that athletic success is still possible.
A year and a half before reaching out to you, at 11 years old, I received my Crohn’s diagnosis. My parents noticed my shoe size didn’t change for an entire year. I was losing weight. I wasn’t growing and I was very fatigued. There were a few days I couldn’t even make it through my AAU basketball game, which upset me.
When we finally figured out it was Crohn’s disease, my family and I were somewhat relieved because we at least felt we now knew how I needed to be treated. But I was still frustrated at times, as I would see my friends being able to play sports and I would watch them grow while I plateaued. Then, there were many days I had to leave school or sit out from sports as doctors adjusted my medication. I wanted to be a regular kid and my illness was getting in the way.
The summer I reached out to you I was supposed to be at sleepaway camp with my friends. Instead, I was at home sick, watching the summer Olympics on TV. That’s when I saw a swimmer, Kathleen Baker, hop out of the pool and thank her doctors for helping her overcome Crohn’s disease. That was the first time I saw a professional athlete with Crohn’s succeeding. It inspired me to go on the internet and search for more athletes living with Crohn’s. That is when I found you and your story. And that is when I decided to reach out to you.
As I mentioned, after I pressed send I kept my expectations low and went on with my life. One day my mother told me to keep my phone nearby. She said my orthodontist was calling to confirm my appointment. The phone rang. It was a Wyoming area code and my orthodontist is in New York. Without giving it too much thought, I answered the phone, expecting to be talking about braces, not basketball. When I said “hello”, it was you on the other end. I was in shock, completely star-struck.
As thrilled I was to hear from you, at that moment, I had no idea that you would be better for me than any solution modern medicine could offer.
You invited me to a game in Brooklyn a few months later. That’s when we first met and you told me and my family you wanted to get more involved with the Crohn’s and colitis community. So, the next time you were in New York I asked you if you wanted to grab lunch. That’s where I pitched you the idea of starting a foundation together, Athletes vs. Crohn’s and Colitis.
You agreed! Can you believe it’s been about three years since that day? So far we’ve raised $300,000, which goes to research, mentorship programs and scholarships for graduating high school athletes who have achieved their goals in sports despite being diagnosed with Crohn’s or colitis. We also established a program called Larry’s Leaders, where families affected by Crohn’s get to meet you at a Cavs game. For your games in New York, we created Noah’s Crohnies. I take about 10 kids impacted by Crohn’s or colitis to meet you. We all get to spend time together and share our stories.
Larry, the entire experience with our foundation has been incredible and I can’t wait to see how we expand our reach and our impact as time goes on.
That’s not all, Larry. As our foundation has grown, so have I! Since my diagnosis, especially in the last two years, I skyrocketed eight inches – still not quite as tall as you but I am taller than both my parents. And Larry, thanks to you, I haven’t just grown in inches, I have matured as a young person living with this chronic illness. Throughout these last few years, you’ve become more than a basketball star who shows up at a charity event, takes a few pictures, signs some autographs and leaves. You have become more than my friend. You are like a big brother to me. We play video games and shoot around a basketball. During the NBA season, we text and stay in contact.
You showed me that my illness doesn’t define my life. I can still achieve my goals. You told me that Crohn’s is like having brown hair or brown eyes. It’s a part of me but it’s not going to hold me back. Your encouragement changed my mindset. Now, I am happier and hopeful, which has allowed me to feel more energetic and live a more normal childhood.
Of course, I still have my bad days, where I don’t feel well but you taught me to focus on the good days and to make sure I make them count, which I believe I do. For my high school, I play volleyball and baseball. I also love playing spike ball with my friends or basketball in the neighborhood. Once again, I am able to fully experience the joy I get from playing sports. Larry, I truly believe it’s because of you and your influence on my life.
Nearly four years ago I wrote to you to thank you for showing kids like me what is possible. Now, I am still writing to thank you but this time for giving me the confidence and courage to become an example for someone else.
While I was once just an Instagram follower and a fan, these last few years you’ve made me feel like family.
Thank you for changing my life by showing me the way.