These days, it seems billionaire hedge fund manager Chris Hansen can do wrong (at least in the eyes of NBA fans in the Northwest). But recently, it was actually the ex-Mrs. Hansen, Francine, who helped make a dream come true for one of LeBron James’ biggest fans. Joey Cawyer, 23, of Cheney, WA (near Spokane), was diagnosed with stage IV brain cancer in April 2010, and doctor’s gave him only one year to live. One of Cawyer’s closest friends, Drew Peterson — an aspiring sports writer attending Washington State University — used the power of social media to grab the attention of the NBA’s most visible star, in hopes of arranging a meeting. After an initial Facebook plea from Joey’s mother, Cindy, Drew took the movement to Twitter, where his #MeetJoey hashtag took on a life of its own:
“After she made that Facebook post I made another Facebook post and just said, ‘Lets take it to Twitter,’” Peterson said. “Everybody #MeetJoey. We just got a few of our Facebook friends involved and then it took off.”
College basketball personality Dick Vitale, UFC fighters, Seattle Seahawk safety Jeron Johnson and Gonzaga basketball players Kevin Pangos and Sam Dower saw the hashtag movement and retweeted it within days.
People from around the country reached out to the trio, sending direct messages through the social media sites offering sympathy.
“We were getting 800 retweets and thousands of followers,” Lindsey said. “I don’t even know if they knew Joey.”
“I knew me and Thang got messages from people who were like, ‘Oh, I’m up in Alaska and I hope this #MeetJoey thing works out,’” she added. “This other guy is like, ‘Oh, I’m down in Florida and I’ve never met Joey, but I’ve been retweeting.’”
The meeting would have to take place in Portland in early January, as Cindy knew time was running out before inevitable hospice care. And that’s where Francine Hansen took over:
“She has connections around the whole industry sports-wise,” (Thang) Nguyen said. “She got in contact with the people who knew LeBron and she told them to have him check his Twitter.
“He checked it at breakfast.”
Francine Hansen spoke with the Trailblazers front office. She arranged tickets for the group as well as post-game access passes.
On January 10th, the Miami Heat rolled into Rip City, while Joey and his friends piled in a Lexus and headed out from Spokane to meet them. Miami lost to the Trailblazers that night, but it’s a trivial footnote to a night of greater importance:
“Where’s Joey? Where’s Joey?”
LeBron James walked past the throng of fans who stood hoping for an autograph. The Miami Heat just blew a 13-point halftime lead in a 92-90 loss to the Portland Trailblazers Jan. 10. But something else was on James’ mind.
“I have to meet Joey,” he said.
James saw Joey Cawyer, a 23-year-old from Cheney, WA., confined to his wheelchair. James bent down and gave him a hug. He turned to the man’s mother and told her to stay strong.
Two weeks after meeting his hero — and 32 months after his initial diagnosis — Joey Cawyer succumbed to the cancer. But his friends will always have that one final moment together, spent with the greatest player on Earth.
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