Shanquis wears his NXT championship belt everywhere. Charles Thompson Jr. knows as much because of the steady stream of photo evidence that clogs his Snapchat inbox.
Thompson, a senior shooting guard on the basketball team at Long Reach High School in Columbia, Md., purchased the professional wrestling belt for Shanquis, a special-needs student at Long Reach, and a video of the act of holiday giving went viral on social media last month.
The retweets and shares might have slowed, but the belt has become a normal part of Shanquis’s wardrobe.
“People send me Snapchats of him. He was at the store, and my friend was like, ‘Look, your bro still has his belt on.’ It makes me smile,” Thompson said.
On Saturday night, Thompson, Shanquis and several of their friends and family members attended a Washington Wizards game at Capital One Arena on the invitation of the team. When the group walked into the locker room, several Wizards player recognized Shanquis, whose last name Thompson has declined to disclose out of respect for Shanquis’s family.
“This is the real champ right here!” they said. Shanquis, with his belt wrapped around his waist, raised a mock microphone to his mouth. “The champ is here!” he said.
Shanquis and Thompson met with Wizards superstar John Wall during warmups, then with center Marcin Gortat in the locker room. They snapped photos and exchanged pleasantries. Later, they watched the Wizards fend off the Brooklyn Nets, 119-113 in overtime. As the Nets made a late run in regulation and Capital One Arena swelled with anxiety, Shanquis chanted, “Defense! Defense!” into his microphone.
It was something that happened before the game, though, that Thompson said he’ll cherish most. Away from the theatrics of the crowd and the surreal feeling of walking into a buzzing NBA locker room, the friends opened a back door that led to the Wizards’ empty practice gym.
Their friendship began this year in gym class, where they bonded over professional wrestling. They often took ownership of their own hoop and put up shots together. “He might be a better shooter than me,” said Thompson, a Long Reach starter. And now, there they were, hoisting jumpers on a court normally inhabited by some of their heroes.
“Just imagine you and your best friend shooting hoops,” Thompson said. “except you’re in Capital One Arena.”
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