Chris Lofton is my new hero.
This in itself is amazing, considering I am only a casual college basketball fan and had barely watched Chris play until this year's NCAA Tournament. When I did watch him play, I honestly thought he was another overrated shooter who didn't have a future.
I have never been more wrong.
When I saw Chris Low's article on ESPN's front page that he was diagnosed with testicular cancer just nights after his loss to Ohio State last year, my normally busy mind just came to a halt. All I could do was stop and read.
What I read was the incredible diagnosis due to an odd finding on NCAA mandated drug test looking for steroids (and, for the record, that is the last time I call drug testing a useless witch hunt.) It continued with the story off an offseason of a young man dealing with surgery and painful radiation to fight his cancer, and it ended with him leading the charge of a top team in the country while just trying to play himself into shape. However, that doesn't impress me as much as the fact as this story was kept a secret today due to his insistence.
He didn't want the pity of every basketball analyst and fan in the country making excuses for him as he tried to come back from an illness that no one in their early 20s should have to deal with, and he came back with the same discipline that made him an incredible shooter and three time All-American in the first place. His senior season, at first glance a down year, is a testament to a strength and bravery almost none of us are truly capable of.
The word cancer is enough to strike the fear of death in any person, but he kept a lid on it because he "didn't want it being a distraction for our team." Most would just be happy if their team's star player just passed the ball a bit more.
Even in the era of Lance Armstrong, Chris Lofton is a cut above. We live in an era of basketball where the talented are being discovered earlier and earlier and the only down to earth basketball stars play for the San Antonio Spurs. Consider that one of Lofton's peers, O.J. Mayo, had the arrogance to call up USC to recruit him, and that took none of us by surprise.
As a Knicks fan, I've watched a complacent team waste talent, resources, and the money of season ticket holders at obscene rates for nearly a decade. Very few on the team seem to be able to deal with their teammates and coach, let alone with a cancer diagnosis. And Chris Lofton did it with the same graceful brilliance that we all see in his sublime jumpshot.
His coach, Bruce Pearl, was quoted as saying, "[Lofton's] No. 5, is going to be hanging in the rafters in Thompson-Boling Arena...No. 5 is going to be there. Chris Lofton leaves his mark in such a way as a Volunteer to have overcome this, to have not hidden and to have not allowed it to beat him." I couldn't have said it any better except to add this - No. 5 should not just be remembered in the rafters of the University of Tennessee, but in the hearts and minds of anyone who loves sport. Even if he never becomes an NBA All-Star, he is something much bigger - a legendary testament to the fact that there are role models left in the jaded world of sports today.
My message to any NBA team is this - don't pass on a chance to get Chris Lofton. Players more talented will come along, but you may never again see a player this special.