Adreian Payne, a 6’10” center on the Michigan State University basketball team, said goodbye to his self- professed “special friend” and “sister” Lacey Holsworth, an 8-year-old girl who passed away on April 8 from a rare form of cancer. The story has touched people’s hearts across the nation, including Laie community members and BYU-Hawaii students because of a short video the Big Ten Network aired about their unlikely friendship.
“It was an amazingly touching story—a college basketball star becoming friends with an 8-year-old cancer patient. It is sad to have an ending like her passing but I think it left its mark on college basketball and on the country,” said Landon Southwick, a soccer player and senior in business from Washington.
According to ESPN, Payne met Holsworth in 2011 on a team-sponsored trip to a local hospital where Holsworth was undergoing treatments. After their first meeting, Payne stayed in contact with Holsworth and their mismatched relationship started to blossom. “Payne brought her [Holsworth] to games, texted her daily, and even brought her on the court on senior night and in Big Ten Tournament in Indianapolis,” says ESPN.
On the day of Lacey’s passing, her parents posted a tweet on Lacey’s Twitter account, which reads, “Princess Lacey has achieved the ultimate victory. She now dances among angels…. The world is a better place because you were in it. Our hearts are broken. We love you Doll. Dance all night… Mommy and Daddy, Will, Mitchell, and Luke #LoveLikeLacey.”
Payne responded to the devastating news with a Tweet, “It was time for my lil princess to go home & feel no more pain, now she’s happy & she’s my angel watching over me.” A few minutes later Payne tweeted this: “More dunks and 3s will be coming soon #RIPLacey.”
In an interview with ESPN, Payne said, "I learned so much, just seeing her fight every day. It's really been hard. She taught me to preserve through anything and just be strong."
“The actions do not fit the mold of typical college athletes. I think that his actions really break stereotypes that athletes tend to have,” said Seini Ita, a senior in psychology from Utah. “It goes to show that even small states, such as Hawaii, hear about kind gestures, just like the one Payne showed. It’s great to know that we hear of these good actions, rather than celebrity’s latest dating lives,”
Payne received the Outreach Award as part of the John R. Wooden Award gala for NCAA basketball in Los Angeles on April 11. At the event, Payne explained why he chose to attend just days after Lacey’s passing. “Lacey would want me to come out," Payne said. "It's not just for me, it's for her. That's the main reason why I came."
Holsworth and Payne’s friendship demonstrated the influence college sports have on the community, said Zach Zufelt, a senior studying exercise and sports science from California. “I think the story says so much about how much good these college sports and athletes can have on other people. So many people look up to these athletes and desire to be like them.”