Life is bigger than basketball. Even with one of the most exciting playoff races I’ve seen in 20+ years of being an NBA fan, there is no question about that.
Rewind to the beginning of the 2007-2008 NBA season. Nene was coming off a fairly successful season, especially in the playoffs against the Spurs, and was entering the second year of a 6 year, 60 million dollar contract. Life was good. Then, 5 games into this season, Nene injured his thumb bad enough to require surgery and miss 6 weeks of the season. He returned to the line-up on December 26th and played in 7 games. On January 11th, the Nuggets organization announced that Nene would be taking an indefinite medical leave. Not much was known at that time in respect to Nene and his situation. Many of the Nuggets players appeared to know and stepped forward and embraced Nene publicly to let him know they were there for him. This statement came from Nene, via the Nuggets:
“I’m very upset that I have to put a little delay on being with the team to take care of my health,” Nene said in a statement released by the team. “It is hard to go through when things seem to be going so well. I thank God that he showed me this issue, so I can take care of it. I want to get back on the court as soon as possible to help my teammates. My family and I ask that you respect our privacy during this time.”
The details on Nene’sÂ conditionÂ were revealed the following week. In thanks to an NBA ordered random drug test, doctors had found a testicular tumor and were able to remove it surgically. Biopsy results found the tumor to be cancerous. The good news was the fact that the cancer was caught at an early stage. Nene chose to attack it with treatment, just as heÂ would attack the rim in a game,Â to give his life and future the best possible chance of a complete recovery from cancer. When the details were shared, Nene had this to say:
“I want to thank my fans, my teammates, the Nuggets organization and everyone that’s been supporting me. My victory will be their victory as well.”
This past Thursday, Nene returned to the court, ten weeks after finding out he had cancer. A testament to Nene’s youth and strength – he somehow was able to come back to the court just a month after undergoingÂ harsh radiation treatment.Â I had the good fortune to be at that game against Dallas, and the cheers Nene received from the fans that night were some of the loudest he has probably ever received in his career. Nene’s victory was shared by all.
So, this story has a happy ending, and it does circle back to sports and NBA basketball. After that initial trip back onto the court in the waning moments of a Nuggets victory, Nene has contributed significantly, albeit in small doses in the past two games against the Suns. What better test than to go up against one of the biggest and strongest centers to ever play the game? Shaquille O’Neal. In those two games, Nene was 3-4 from the floor with 8 points andÂ 9 rebounds. He showed a pent-up level of energy that I would not have expected, and his moments on the court were marked with the strength and power moves in the post that the Nuggets had been missing in his abscense this season. IÂ trulyÂ believe that Nene will be an important andÂ positive factorÂ in the playoffs this postseason. Welcome back, Nene.