Though exhausted from last weekend’s trip to Los Angeles and the resumption of his radiation treatments, 15-year-old Brandon Higgins was exhilarated Wednesday as he showed off some of the photographs and souvenirs he brought back from the NBA All-Star Weekend.
Thanks to the Make-A-Wish Foundation and friends from NBA Cares, the Brooklin teenager, his parents, Louanne and Kevin Higgins, and his 19-year-old sister, Ashley Higgins, were treated to a weekend filled with basketball action and stars, not to mention photo shoots, autograph sessions and the chance to see green grass and enjoy some California sunshine.
During the adventure, Brandon snapped dozens of photos and gathered autographs from some of the top basketball players in the country.
“I’ve got 44 autographs in that book,” he said Wednesday during an interview at the Ronald McDonald House, where he and his family have been staying since shortly after Jan. 28, when Brandon was diagnosed with a cancerous inoperable tumor in his brain stem called a glioma.
Louanne Higgins said earlier that because his prognosis was bleak, with a life expectancy from 18 months to two years, the staff at Make-A-Wish of Maine accelerated his lifelong dream — a trip to Los Angeles to see members of his beloved Boston Celtics play in the NBA All-Star Game. A wish that otherwise would take as long as three years to put together was granted in a mere 10 days, she said.
For the Higginses and four other Make-A-Wish families of children with life-threatening illnesses, it was VIP treatment all the way.
Limousine service to and from airports. A suite on the 10th floor of the upscale Omni Hotel, complete with room service. All-access passes to NBA All-Star events spread out over three days. The use of a luxury skybox for the duration of the weekend and the opportunity to hobnob with basketball greats and celebrities from the entertainment industry who dropped in for a visit.
The Make-A-Wish kids also were interviewed by NBA-TV, ESPN and other major media outlets and brought back some pretty cool swag, including All-Star-theme T-shirts.
But it was the chance to meet members of the Celtics that was at the heart of his dream, Brandon said, excitedly showing a group shot taken of himself, his father and some of the team’s 2011 All-Star picks.
Brandon, it seems, made as much of an impression on the Celtics as they did on him.
During the All-Star game, which pitted the best of the Eastern Conference against the best of the Western Conference, members the Celtics — coach Doc Rivers and players Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen — all wore green “Team Brandon” wristbands given to them by the tall, lanky teenager from Maine.
When the Celtics learned that Brandon was forced to miss a Feb. 7 Celtics game because he was too ill to attend, they sent a boxful of team memorabilia — including a signed jersey, pennants and a letter inviting him to be a guest at a future game — to his home in Brooklin.
In addition, a team “bigwig” gave him a rare collectible Celtics pin, which he proudly wore on a souvenir T-shirt Wednesday.
“These pins are so rare that no one ever gets them,” Brandon said. “So they heard what I was going through and felt so bad for me that they presented it to me. That touched me pretty deep when that came in.”
Another memorable moment was when Brandon followed basketball great Julius Erving, also known as Dr. J, into an elevator to ask for an autograph, which he got.
“I speed-walked right into the elevator with Dr. J without a pen with me,” he recalled. A woman in the elevator supplied one and now the hoops legend’s autograph is in his autograph book.
In addition to several Celtics, Brandon met a slew of other basketball greats, including Dominique Wilkins and Shaquille O’Neil.
Louanne Higgins said the family never will forget the experience, which she said they never could have afforded without the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Maine and its partners.
“I think the greatest moment for me was that we got to go as a family, forget about cancer for the weekend and spend some quality time together,” she said Wednesday.
For information about future fundraisers or to follow Brandon’s journey, visit www.brandonsrecovery.com. The website has a mechanism for contributions and links to a Facebook page and other information.
For information about the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Maine, visit www.maine.wish.org.