JP Gibson’s smile lit up the room and when he sat at the podium he made a little gesture as if to say, “Here I am.”
And there he was, melting hearts and living a dream.
With a crayon in hand, the 5-year-old from Layton signed a special one-day contract with the Utah Jazz.
In a world where wins sometimes mean the difference between a good day and a bad one, this story offers some critical context and a little humanity, which is always a good thing.
JP, who has been battling acute lymphoblastic leukemia for most of his life, joined his mother, Megan, father, Josh, and little sister Elise for Monday’s Jazz scrimmage at EnergySolutions Arena.
In addition to his special contract, the little boy received his own uniform – No. 1 – and not only got to meet the team, he sat with them on the bench.
The family was hosted by the Jazz and photographer Jon Diaz’s “Anything Can Be” project, which creates storybooks for children with cancer about their dreams and wishes.
“We’re a young team and we decided that we’d even go a little younger,” Jazz president Randy Rigby said, surrounded by the Gibson family for a special press conference.
How did the new-look Jazz perform in their first open scrimmage? It’s just too early to tell. But way from the court, they couldn’t have been any better.
They brought a lot of happiness to a family whose life has been turned upside down. JP, a happy little guy with a big smile and a fighter’s spirit, is a serious sports fan. He loves the Jazz and the opportunity to meet the players, wear his new uniform and sit on the bench during the scrimmage, well, that was a dream come true.
“He doesn’t remember a lot before cancer,” Megan Gibson said. “He’s been fighting cancer longer than he has not been.”
“It kind of lets us forget he has cancer and we can just enjoy having a normal life,” Josh Gibson said. “This is definitely not normal but it’s nice to know people do care.”
As any father would, Josh said his son is “the best kid.” He took to sports very early on and developed a love for the Jazz.
Watching games with his father on the family’s couch was about as good as it gets.
“At 12 months old he’d just climb up on the couch and watch full games of basketball with me,” Josh said. “I had a neighbor who’d always ask, ‘Hey, how do you get your kid to watch sports with you?’ I said, ‘I don’t. He just watches.’”
He does more than just watch. He pays attention, analyzes what he sees and reacts accordingly.
“When we go to the games he yells for rebounds and steals and boos the other team,” Josh said. “He just picked it up all himself by watching TV.”
JP is 5 now but he constantly reminds his parents that a year from now he’ll be eligible to play Jr. Jazz ball.
“He’s looking forward to his next birthday,” dad said.
When that day comes JP will be able to tell his teammates he’s already played with the big team.
What a great thing the Jazz did for not only the Gibsons, but their entire fanbase. The franchise has always billed itself as a family organization with a charitable heart. Monday’s “transaction” illuminated that point.
Rigby took great care in giving the Gibsons the VIP tour and during the scrimmage JP sat next to big man Derrick Favors, who put his arm around the little guy and kept him safe.
“When your child is diagnosed with cancer you think ‘Are we ever going to be normal? Can he run with friends? Can he go to school? Will he have a first day of school?’ All these things go through your mind,” Megan explained.
“The chemo damages their joints so we didn’t know if he would be able to run or walk or anything like that. To see him go out there on the court tonight with the Jazz, I don’t think there are words to express. We are so grateful.”
Soon the Jazz will go back to the serious nature of the NBA. Players will run the floor and coaches will scheme for the upcoming season. Before long it’ll be about pushing through tough stretches of the season, the back-to-back games and the long mid-winter road trips with no end in sight.
But the Gibsons will never forget what happened Monday night.
Jim Burton is the Standard-Examiner’s sports columnist. He can be reached at 801-625-4265 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @StandardExJimbo