- Rick Reilly, Columnist, ESPN.com
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LeBron, meet Ebony.
She's a lot like you, actually.
She wears a headband (even though she has no hair -- or eyebrows). She's a basketball freak. A 16-year-old junior, she's got a sweet handle and plays killer zone defense.
Oh, one thing that's different: She's trying like hell not to die of cancer.
That's not going to be easy. The majority of people who have the kind of Stage 4 soft-tissue sarcoma Ebony Nettles-Bey has don't live through it.
Ebony has two goals.
One, like you did at her age, she wants to play pro. That's not going to be easy, either. Sometimes she goes to her Verona (Wis.) High School girls' basketball games straight from the hospital. She barely gets the IVs out and she's suiting up. And then she checks right back into the hospital afterward.
Two is to meet ... you. "Oh my God," she says. "I'd probably start crying. That would just about be everything I ever wanted. I mean, there's your life right there. That's what you live for."
She's wanted to meet you forever, long before she was sick. Maybe that's why, when Ebony's teammates found out about her diagnosis, they started a Twitter campaign. It got hot. Now, thousands of tweets with the hashtag #LeBronMeetEbony have gone out. It even trended for a while.
Like you, she's lived an inner-city life that hasn't always been easy. Her dad was shot 16 times and died when she was just 5. Like you, she's bounced around, living sometimes with her mom, sometimes with her godmother, sometimes with her godfather.
Like you, she's kind of a Beethoven at ball. Last year, as a sophomore at Madison West High, she was All Conference. She averaged almost 17 points a game and was such a complete player that she verbally committed to the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee as a sophomore, according to her godfather, Peter Johannes.
Like you, she's been, well, controversial.
When you left Cleveland for Miami, people weren't happy. When Ebony left Madison West for Verona to get a more stable living situation, "a whole lot of people in Madison weren't happy," says her new coach, Angie Murphy. "She immediately took us from a 'good' team to a contender for the state title. She's like LeBron. You want the ball in her hands."
Like you did, she plays AAU ball, but during one AAU game in September, she noticed she couldn't get deep breaths. Doctors found a tumor the size of a softball under her rib cage. It was so big, it collapsed her lung. The cancer spread to her lymph nodes. Doctors told her mom, Katrina, that Ebony might not last the year.
Remember all those times you've played through back injuries, ankles, toes? Well, what Ebony has played through makes that all that look like chapped lips. She's played through surgeries. She's played through radiation. She's played through chemo. "She's got a five-day chemo hospital visit coming up [next week]," says Johannes. "And I know what she'll do. She'll check into the hospital Monday. She'll have chemo Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. Leave the hospital Thursday. Go play the game. Check back in Thursday night, and then have chemo Friday morning."
How does a person play high school hoops through the hell of chemo?
"You just do it," Ebony says. "And you accept what comes afterward."
What comes afterward is nausea, weakness and utter exhaustion. I've never heard of anybody trying it. George Karl tried to coach the Denver Nuggets through it and couldn't do it. Her first game after chemo, Ebony almost passed out on the court. The last time, her neck swelled up.
"And yet she never, ever, never complains," Murphy says.
Ebony has so many supporters in Wisconsin now that opposing teams buy her "Fight Cancer" T-shirts and then warm up with them on.
Like you, she's got fans she's never even met.
In Verona's game at Janesville Parker on Saturday night, hundreds in the stands chanted, "Eb-o-ny! Eb-o-ny!" Ebony just looked at Murphy and mouthed, "It's too much!"
Like you, she hates to lose. Remember last season, when you were down 27 points in the third quarter to the Cleveland Cavaliers with your 23-game winning streak on the line? And you came back and won? You already know: Impossible comebacks happen.
Like you, she loves tattoos. In fact, if she beats cancer -- "when I beat cancer," Ebony always corrects -- she's going to get a bunch more. One will be a picture of her dad. She looks just like him. One will probably be of you. Maybe you were both chosen?
It must be terrifying, what lies ahead of her. A kid like this is tough, but she needs people to be tough next to her. That's where you could come in.
"She's scared, but she's strong," her mom says. "She's afraid she's going to die, but then she says, 'Mom, I'm still going to play in the WNBA. You watch."
Sources close to the Heat tell me this meeting is definitely going to happen, they just can't quite say when or where yet. You come to play Chicago on March 9 (three hours from Verona) and Milwaukee on March 29 (even closer). And Ebony's mom would even fly her to Miami if she has to, even though they can't afford it.
Look, I know you get thousands of requests like this a year. And people in Miami say you're great about them. You have zero obligation to meet Ebony at all. It must weigh heavy sometimes, being the one person sick kids ache to touch. But if you did -- if her absolute hero did meet her, hug her, maybe swap headbands -- that might be worth 10 chemo sessions.
Me, I hope it happens soon.
After all, it's not every day you get to meet somebody as talented, amazing and famous as Ebony.
Rick Reilly hopes LeBron James will get to meet Ebony Nettles-Bey because he might find someone to idolize as she takes the basketball court shortly after undergoing chemo.