Rudy Gay will be making his playoff debut in a few days.
Cortavious Shephard, one of his grandest fans, is expecting great things out of the Memphis Grizzlies franchise player.
“How many championships have Rudy won?” Shephard asked one of the Grizzlies communications representatives moments before Gay arrived for Sunday’s “Dream Dinner” with the 10-year-old St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital patient at Bleu Restaurant downtown.
The event, hosted by C Spire Wireless in conjunction with the Grizzlies, FedExForum, and Hoops for St. Jude Week, is designed, in part provide St. Jude patients the opportunity to enjoy a meal, take photos, and interact with a professional athlete of their choice.
For Shephard, hooking up with the 6-foot-8 Gay brought about a renewed sense of hope and enthusiasm as the Brownsville (Tenn.) Sunny Hill Elementary fifth grader battles his deadly disease.
Five months ago, Shephard was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia.
The disease, also referred to as acute myelogenous leukemia, is a cancer of the myeloid line of blood cells, characterized by the rapid growth of abnormal white blood that accumulate in the bone marrow and interfere with the production of the normal blood cells.
According to MayoClinic.com, AML is the most common acute leukemia affecting adults, and its incidence increases with age. Although AML essentially is a rare disease that affects adults for approximately 1.2 percent of cancer deaths in the United States according to staffers of the website, its incidence is expected to increase as the population expands.
“I was shocked and in fear,” said Nakiesha Shephard, recalling her immediate response after learning of her son’s sudden illness. “Through prayer…and the unity of our family has been wonderful.”
As consolation, of sorts, Nakiesha and her husband, Brad, sat alongside each other, ecstatic while witnessing their son have his wish granted in meeting Gay for an intimate, one-hour dinner. After shaking hands and posing for a few photos with the Grizzlies leading scorer, Cortavious and Gay headed to the table, where they sat facing each another.
Before dinner was served, Cortavious asked Gay an assortment of questions, most notably his height, age, and favorite foods. The usually soft-spoken Gay, consequently, began cracking jokes with Cortavious, drawing laughs from his parents and other well-wishers in attendance.
“It means a lot to me,” Gay said of meeting Cortavious. “First, it’s humbling because he’s a fan of mine. Obviously, we’re having dinner and stuff. But I’m just as excited as he is to make his day.”
Because St. Jude remains committed to helping families of children cope with deadly diseases by ensuring that they will never pay for medical expenses, Deb Kirinovic, senior representative for sports marketing for the hospital, said events such as the “Dream Dinner” are life-changing, especially for basketball-crazed kids such as Cortavious.
St. Jude is community partner of NBA Cares.
“You don’t take moments for granted at St. Jude,” Kirinovic said. “Words can’t express what this means for a child like this, especially at a traumatic time. (Cortavious) loves the Grizzlies. He talked about them for about 10 minutes before Rudy got here.”
Chances are Cortavious will have even more to talk about if Gay wins his first NBA championship this year.
“I told him we’re going to play hard,” Gay said.
After all, Cortavious wouldn’t expect anything less from his hero.
Andre Johnson is a regular contributor for MemphiSport. Follow him on Twitter @AJ_Journalist.