MILWAUKEE — At first, Ebony Nettles-Bey tried to play it cool.That worked for a minute — well, a few seconds, anyway. Next came tears of joy and a grin that went clear across her face, from one happy ear to the other.Thanks to the generosity of Miami Heat star LeBron James and the Milwaukee Bucks, Nettles-Bey had a dream come true — and then some — Saturday night at the Bradley Center.
The 16-year-old Verona junior basketball standout was invited to run onto the floor with the Heat for pregame warmups, took a few shots with the team, stood with James during the national anthem, and watched the first half of the Heat’s 88-67 victory over the Bucks from a courtside seat next to the Heat’s bench.And all of it was a wonderful surprise.“All I knew was that we were coming in to watch the game. I was telling my friends, maybe he’ll wave or run past and smile at us,” Nettles-Bey said.Nettles-Bey continued to play basketball this past season while undergoing chemotherapy and radiation therapy in her fight against stage-four Rhabdomyosarcoma. She was told she had been invited to Saturday’s game as a guest of the Bucks because she had expressed a desire to see her favorite player in action.In truth, the Bucks — and James — had more in mind.
Forty minutes before game time, a Bucks representative led the eight members of Nettles-Bey’s group into a dining area underneath the stands, saying the team was going to provide a dinner. Instead, Nettles-Bey was told to join the Bucks’ representative, by herself, and they kept on walking all the way to the Heat’s locker room.And that’s when she met James, who invited her to run onto the floor for pregame warmups.“I was speechless. It was pretty exciting,” Nettles-Bey said. “I couldn’t say anything. I just started crying tears of joy. … It meant everything to me.”James signed inspirational messages on his shoes — "#cancerwho" and "EbonyStrong" — and then encouraged her to show off her jump shot.“I felt a lot of pressure to make one. I finally did — one out of four,” she said. “He said I couldn’t walk off the floor until I made a shot.”Then, during the national anthem, James stood behind Nettles-Bey and put his hands on her shoulders. He even cracked a joke that had both laughing. Finally, the two exchanged pats on the back as James left to prepare for the opening tip.
As it turned out, Nettles-Bey wasn’t the only one moved by the experience.“I didn't need to meet her to understand and know how strong she was. It was great to be around her, to see her enthusiasm and her fight,” James said. "It's like she doesn't even have it. It's not going to stop her. That's a very unique trait.“I couldn’t understand why she would choose to meet me. Why not go to Disney World? Why not do something cool? Why would you want to meet me? I feel blessed.”
James gave his game jersey and an autographed pair of shoes to Nettles-Bey, and met with her privately for a few minutes after the game. A few other Heat team members took the time to visit, including Dwyane Wade, who posed for photos with the family.“They didn’t act like stars. They acted like they knew me,” Nettles-Bey said.