The collective mood of the Miami Heat after a loss on Friday was relatively gloomy.
Perspectives changed considerably on Saturday.
The Heat are spending the weekend hosting Thiago D’Elia, a 17-year-old high school player from Atlanta. The kid can shoot – he was hitting 3-pointers from NBA range during practice Saturday – but his presence was for a more important reason. D’Elia has fought cancer, and the Make-A-Wish Foundation reached out to the Heat to see if his dream of hanging out with LeBron James could become reality.
On Wednesday, D’Elia found out that it was going to happen.
”It’s unreal,” D’Elia said, wearing a black Heat uniform with No. 32 – his high school number – on it, along with his first name on the back. ”No words for it, really. It’s kind of overwhelming but once you get used to it, it’s pretty fun.”
Even after seeing their 17-game homecourt winning streak snapped Friday night by Memphis, Saturday’s workout was a light one for the Heat, evidenced by the fact that it ended with a halfcourt shooting contest, with D’Elia taking part in that.
He missed. No one was disappointed.
”He’s a great kid, from the story we’ve gotten to know about him, and it was a joy to have him with us today,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. ”Not only for him, but also coming off a night like last night it certainly keeps everything in perspective for all of us. We are in the toy department of human affairs.”
D’Elia said he’s followed James for most of his life, and for reasons that go beyond basketball. Like James was, D’Elia said he’s being raised by a single mother, Laura Roig, who was there for practice as well on Saturday. They’ll have courtside seats on Sunday when the Heat play host to the Detroit Pistons.
”As a mom, how can I thank you?” Roig asked James after practice.
With that, James gave her a hug.
”It brings it all in perspective,” James said. ”The game is bigger than just five-on-five or the two teams meeting last night. We’ve got fans all over the place and for him to be here, for this organization to put this together, man, it means a lot.”
D’Elia also got a signed authentic game jersey and a pair of sneakers from James, as well as an autograph from Dwyane Wade. The autograph wasn’t for himself – D’Elia wanted it for a friend at home who recently had surgery.
D’Elia said his heart was racing ”20 times over its limit” when he was on the floor with James, shooting free throws with him and then getting into a 3-point contest after practice.
”I thought I was going to have to call the ER right quick,” D’Elia said.
James, Wade and other Heat players do several Make-A-Wish events a season, though Saturday’s was believed to be the first time that someone was actually taking part in elements of a Miami practice.
”It’s great,” Wade said. ”It’s always a good opportunity to understand things are bigger than wins and losses in life. And it was good for our team. Perfect timing for us.”
Follow Tim Reynolds on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/ByTimReynolds