Covered my first WNBA game tonight, with Angel McCoughtry’s Atlanta Dream falling to the red-hot Indiana fever. But the story of the game is still going on across the Conseco Fieldhouse court right now.
They’re trying to turn the lights off. Security guards are standing around impatiently. They tried to get people to leave. “We’re not leavin’,” one guy said, “until we see Angel.”
And right now, they’re seeing Angel. There are 75 or 80 people, and they’ve lined them down a sideline to keep them off the court. And in a gym empty of everyone except a few players and their families and security personnel, Angel is signing autographs and taking pictures and hugging kids.
And on the other side of midcourt, Rajon Rondo is doing the same thing. The Boston Celtics guard just finished his last camp in Louisville and is going to split time between Atlanta and Louisville the rest of the summer working out. Tonight, sitting next to his longtime girlfriend Ashley, he said, “I just came to support Angel.”
I’m going to write a story about Angel and her first months as a professional basketball player for Monday’s paper. And I may retell this story. But I want to tell it now while it’s still fresh.
Before I left the locker room, Angel stopped me and said, “You have to give a shout-out to Heather. They called me today from Louisville. She has cancer, and they gave her a wish, and her wish was to meet me. You have to say something about Heather.”
I’ll do one better. A girl came up to McCoughtry in the autograph line, and asked for her shoes. McCoughtry leaned over to Laura Terry, a former U of L teammate who had come to watch the game, and said, “This girl asked for my shoes.”
McCoughtry, of course, would give a little girl about anything she asked for, but she said to Terry, “I can’t do that. These shoes are for Heather. Inside her bag was an envelope stuffed with what looked like a thick letter. It looked like it had been jostled around quite a bit. On the front of the envelope was printed the name, ‘Heather,” with a heart beside it.”
Louisville’s lucky to have had someone who has such heart. And still have them. McCoughtry will be back in town when the season is over. Actually, Louisville is lucky to have two such people.
A while back, I heard about a young boy in Paducah who was very ill. He was part of a Make-A-Wish’s program, and was about to have his wish granted, the building of a basketball court in his yard. But the family is a rabid UK fan bunch, and some people thought it would be nice if someone from UK could sign something for him.
I sent word along to the school, and got back a form letter, with a link to a web site that said such requests were first-come, first served, and that no items were available at this time. Now, my first reaction was to shake my head, at a $70 million outfit that receives so much adoration from the state, could have that response to sick kids — and adults. But that’s not fair, maybe. I’m sure the number of requests is staggering. And let’s not forget the huge amount of good UK does do, I know John Calipari is extremely generous, as is Rich Brooks. It’s just one of those things.
Regardless, my second thought was to go to Rajon Rondo. One phone call, and an item was in the works. Sadly, it didn’t make it before the little boy passed away suddenly, having not yet had the unveiling of his wish. Rondo sent something anyway.
These are two people who, I’d say, are destined to become sports institutions in Louisville. Both have long and successful pro careers ahead of them. And both have made it a huge priority to give back, especially to kids.
That’s it from Indianapolis. I’ll have more on McCoughtry in Monday’s column, and more on the local chapter of the Make A Wish Foundation, and an inspiring story of a boy who had his wish granted, and is now working to help other children, in the paper very soon.