“You like it?” Thomas said, his face lighting up. “Being small is so cool. I’m the smallest guy in the NBA. I’m the smallest guy in basketball, so we’re like the same guy.”
“Yeah,” Gavin said, nodding his head.
“It’s not always fun to be tall,” Thomas said.
What was fun was their time together, talking about Gavin’s favorite movie (“Cars”) and making their way down a fashion runway that spanned the floor of Quicken Loans Arena, where the Cavs’ court usually is, as the 1,300 guests snapped photos.
After the runway, Thomas and Gavin were interviewed by Cavs play-by-play announcer Fred McLeod. Thomas stood behind Gavin with his hands on the boy’s shoulders. While Thomas was speaking, Gavin reached up and wrapped his hand around one of Thomas’ fingers.
“I’m not a huge crier, and I just started bawling because you could just tell that Gavin felt so comfortable with Isaiah,” said Cameron Heileman, Gavin’s mother.
The experience left an impression on Gavin.
“The entire car ride home, he was just super, super … I don’t even know how to explain it. Just like a kid I’ve never seen before,” Cameron said. “He was just so excited about everything.”
After the event, Gavin’s kindergarten class greeted him at school with a sign that read “Swishes come true.” The Heileman family hosts parties to watch Cavs games, and Gavin dutifully puts on a headband like the one Thomas wears when he plays. Even though Thomas hasn’t played in a game for the Cavs because of his hip injury, Gavin gazes at the television, hoping to get a glimpse of the point guard on the bench.
“Ever since that night, it’s been, ‘My friend Isaiah. I have to watch my friend Isaiah on TV,'” Cameron said. “It’s just been the cutest thing. It’s a time where he can just watch his friend, and we don’t think about anything.”
Gavin’s final chemo session is Dec. 18. The tumor has been completely removed. The seizures have ceased. He’s the appropriate height and weight for a healthy 5-year-old boy (even if he says he’s short for his class). The feeling has returned to the right side of his body. He doesn’t show any signs of trouble with his fine motor skills, nor has he struggled with any learning disabilities.
When Cameron told her son he’d be an honored guest at “Big Shots and Little Stars,” he reasoned, “Well, mom, it’s because I’m the bravest boy in the world.”
She wasn’t about to argue with him.
“When this whole thing started, he was 3, and he was swallowing pills whole,” she said. “He was sitting completely still while he was getting radiation. I mean, completely still. When he’s on chemo, he’s very sick, and I think none of that has gotten him down, and you would have no idea that he’s sick at all. He’s just so brave.”
And he’s happy, too.
“People like the Cavs and Isaiah taking time out to help him, I truly think that his happiness and his joy [helps him] just as much as the chemo and the radiation,” said Cameron, who also credited the Cleveland Clinic for their treatment of Gavin.
Meanwhile, the 5-year-old helped the 28-year-old realize that as much as he’s itching to get back on the court, being a dad to Jaiden and James while they’re still carefree is about as good as it gets.
“These kids come here so happy, and they’ve been through so much in their lives when you wouldn’t even think they have,” Thomas said. “These events are always special to me because they’re smiling, they’re happy where they’ve been through tough times. Like, I have half the worries they have, and they’re still smiling. That helps me out when I’m going through tough times. It’s like, people are going through worse things than I am, and they’re still pushing through. So these kids are everything. These kids are what keep me going.”