For Guard and His Fan, Strength in a Number

By Steve Yanda
Special to The Washington Post
Wednesday, March 26, 2008

OMAHA -- Somewhere among the socks, shirts and toiletries Michael Flowers packed to take with him to the first and second rounds of the NCAA tournament is a No. 22 jersey. It is significantly smaller than the No. 22 jersey Flowers wears during games, the one with "Wisconsin" stitched across the front.

This one says "Kidball" and is one of Flowers's most prized possessions. Max Bass gave him that jersey last December, the night Flowers realized his definitions of words such as "courage" and "determination" were underdeveloped.

"I take it everywhere with me," Flowers said. "I have it here right now. It's not leaving my possession. It's something that I value, that I appreciate. It's a reminder to never take life for granted."

Max Bass looks up to Flowers because the Wisconsin guard represents everything that has defined the Gaithersburg child's life -- tribulation, perseverance, diligence, triumph. Michael wears No. 22, just like Max.

Flowers, though, says Max and his family have done more for his personal growth and maturity than he could ever dream of doing for them. When you discover you are the idol of a kindergartner who has battled leukemia since he was 2 1/2 , Flowers says, you grow up in a hurry.

Max's father, Adam, was the one who first put 22 and 22 together, and in the year since Max became enamored of his Badgers role model, several lives have changed. It started with Max and Michael's, sure, but the ripple effect of the pair's bond spread beyond a 5-year-old boy battling a deadly disease and a college basketball player searching for serenity.

Flowers "always checks up on Max, and we check up on him," Adam Bass said by phone late last week. "And obviously we watch every game."

* * *

Today was the first morning [Max] awoke early due to hunger. So at 5 am, Adam made Max his new favorite request: Macaroni & Cheese. Although his appetite has increased, Max is still a picky eater and now craves only starches and salt and nothing sweet.

March 23, 2005, journal post by Max's mother, Jamie, on the family's Web site at CaringBridge.org

Max Bass first saw someone else wearing his jersey number in early 2007, when his father, a Wisconsin alum, was watching a Badgers game on TV.


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