Amaris Jackson, 10, lit up the Verizon Center arena as she led the Washington Wizards onto the court as the youngest player in the NBA and the newest edition to the Wizards roster prior to a season game with the Milwaukee Bucks April 12 in Washington, D.C.
The youngster’s dream was made possible due to a collaboration between the Washington Wizards franchise and Make-a-Wish Mid-Atlantic Foundation.
In May 2013, Amaris was diagnosed with renal cell carcinoma, a kidney cancer normally found in adults.
Her mother, Parris Jackson, said that there have been only nine case studies in the U.S. on children with the disease. “Amaris is actually the ninth case study. At first it was just on the left side of her stomach. But within three days it spread really quickly to other side. It’s a really strong cancer,” said Jackson. “But Amaris has had it for a year now and hasn’t cried one time, not even after the operations. I’ve been the one who’s been upset and crying. She’s the one telling me it’s going to be OK.”
The bright-eyed 10-year-old was all smiles as she received the once-in-a-lifetime chance to meet and practice with her teammates, especially John Wall.
Jackson arrived with her family and was immediately welcomed into the Wizards locker room and presented with new shoes and a team jersey with her name emblazoned on the back.
Upon entering the team practice court, Jackson smiled and waved to her new teammates, while members of the media shot video and snapped photos.
Before hitting the pregame shoot-around, Jackson discussed play strategies on the sidelines with assistant coach and former All-Star Sam Cassell.
Excited about hitting nets, the miniature star’s face was full of determination as she made passes to her towering new friends John Wall, Marcin Gortat, Martell Webster and Kevin Seraphin.
The young hot shot said she would take back some of the plays she learned for use in practice with her school teammates.
After the practice session, the young basketball enthusiast handled the onslaught of media queries with a calm demeanor while sipping from a water bottle. “John Wall is my favorite player because he’s a point guard like me,” said Jackson, who plays point guard at Takoma Elementary School, Washington, D.C.
Jackson seemed to love all the media attention, but, “The best thing today was meeting all the players,” said Jackson. She even giggled as Kevin Seraphin, forward, playfully shielded her from media coverage while following her out of the practice court area.
Later that evening, Jackson was all smiles as her name was announced and her image appeared on the Jumbotron as she led the team onto the court prior to the game against the Milwaukee Bucks.
The towering, seven-foot center, Marcin Gortat, gave Jackson a momentary lift to the rim to dunk a basketball during the specialized shoot-around opportunity.
She even got some one-on-one game warm-up tips from her favorite player, John Walls, before a filled arena.
Jackson seemed to stand as tall as her teammates during the singing of the national anthem. But the best moment of her debut was when she joined the team huddle, shouting the team mantra to rally her teammates for the impending game.
Jackson and her family were then invited to sign an official, one-day contract with Wizards owner Ted Leonsis and Wizards General Manager, Ernie Grunfeld.
After Jackson signed the contract, Leonsis welcomed her to the team and added, “now if one of the players is not doing so well, that doesn’t mean for you to come off the bench and help.”
Later Jackson and her family shared a VIP box with Leonsis and Grunfield during the game.
Throughout the entire day Jackson showed no signs of fatigue.
During pre-game interviews, Jackson’s parents were amazed at their daughter’s stamina in playing with the Wizards and handling the ensuing media frenzy.
“To see her go through surgery, then bounce back and watch her play here tonight, it’s just crazy how strong she is, being so young,” said her father, Jose Guevara.
Her mother looked back at Amaris’ medical journey during the past year.
“I remember when Amaris was in the hospital and had gone through her second surgery. People on the staff were asking her if she could just get one wish what it would be,” said Parris Jackson.
“She just kept on saying she wanted to play basketball with the Wizards, ‘because I live up the street and I’m sure that all of them live down the street from me,’” said Parris, laughing. Amaris questioned her mom about the probability of her wish coming true. “I told her, yeah maybe one day, honey. I’ll see what I can do.”
Unbeknownst to the family, a representative from Make a Wish Mid-Atlantic found out about Amaris’s wish.
“They said they wanted to meet my daughter. When they talked with her they asked the same questions about meeting the Wizards and Amaris answered the same - and here we are,” said Parris. “It’s all so surreal. On the outside Amaris has been cool, but when she gets back to school she’ll definitely have some stories to tell.”
The parents were unanimous in just wanting to see their daughter happy and smiling at the end of the day.
“It was exciting, meeting all the players,” Jackson said. “It was awesome. She’s like my little miracle baby. She’s amazing.”