Gilbert, the 14-year-old son of Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert, stole the show Tuesday night in much the same way Irene Pollin did a year ago. In fact, although I thought Wall should have taken Mrs. Pollin with him as his good luck charm, I don’t think even their combined forces could have brought the Wizards a second consecutive No. 1 pick. Not when they were up against the plucky charm of Nick Gilbert.
Gilbert was born with neurofibromatosis, a genetic nerve disorder that causes tumors to grow in his body, anywhere and at any time. According to his father, Nick has undergone brain surgery and four rounds of chemo and lost the vision in one eye, in addition to countless visits to hospitals and doctors’ offices.
“Nick has never complained a single time about the bad card he was dealt, and instead, chooses to focus on all that is good and exciting around him,” his dad said at the time Nick’s role Tuesday night was announced. “He is an example of perseverance, determination and life the way it should be lived. Nick is my personal hero.”
Nick is probably the personal hero of half of Ohio today. And then there is Minnesota GM David Kahn, who either implied the lottery was fixed, or simply wedged an Italian loafer so far down his throat he’ll need some surgery of his own to get it out.
“This league has a habit, and I am just going to say habit, of producing some pretty incredible story lines,” Kahn said. “Last year it was Abe Pollin’s widow and this year it was a 14-year-old boy and the only thing we have in common is we have both been bar mitzvahed. We were done. I told Kevin [O’Connor, Utah’s GM and one of the final three on stage]: ‘We’re toast; this is not happening for us.’ And I was right.”
The Timberwolves had the worst record in the league last season and are 0-for-14 in the draft lottery, so I get the disappointment. Still, when you’re standing on a stage with a child cheerfully battling an incurable and disfiguring disease, you might want to take the high road.
And from a purely practical point of view, let’s not forget this isn’t the deepest draft in NBA history. The difference between the first and second picks is going to be fairly negligible.
But let’s get back to Nick Gilbert, because let’s face it, how many “feel-good” stories do we get in sports these days? Asked Tuesday night how it felt to have his dad call him his own personal hero — duh, by the way — Nick knocked that softball right out of the park.
“Well, I mean, what’s not to like?” he said. “I’m the oldest of five. I have a good life. I’m going through this disease, but I’m going through it well. I’m getting better. Research is [helping] with all the money people are donating. Yeah, everything’s going good.”
You can see why Nick was chosen as the 2011 ambassador for the Children’s Tumor Foundation, and if his appearance at the lottery helps them raise an extra nickel, then it was well worth it. (David Kahn, seriously, check out this kid’s attitude, check out your own, and get out the checkbook.)
The No. 1 and 4 picks in this year’s NBA draft aren’t going to singlehandedly fulfill Dan Gilbert’s (unwise) promise that the Cavs will win an NBA championship before LeBron James and the Heat do. But Nick Gilbert has given Cavs fans something to smile about for the first time since last summer’s “Decision” fiasco. That’s pretty heroic.