Lacey’s Magic Tale of a Knight in Spartan Armor

(Written By Tom Shanahan)

Maybe you’ve seen the recent TV ads with Magic Johnson as he encourages uninformed Americans to sign up by the March 31 deadline for the Health Insurance Marketplace.

Utilizing the Basketball Hall-of-Famer, mega-successful businessman, Michigan State alumnus and all-around good guy as a spokesman was a sage move. He has broad appeal beyond the sports world.

But would you believe there is a Michigan State basketball figure that could top Magic as a more profound spokesman for this health-care issue? That sounds sacrilegious. No superstar does more — big and small — for his alma mater than Johnson. How can you top a person from that exclusive club with a one-name identity?

But you’d change your opinion if you knew the unique story about Adreian Payne and his “little sister” Lacey Holsworth.

Magic’s ad makes you smile and consider his advice with his engaging personality.

But an ad featuring Payne and 8-year-old Lacey will make you tear up.Adreian Payne,  Lacey Holsworth

Even the cold-hearted Koch Brothers, who’ve spent millions upon millions (enough to build hospitals) in a futile attempt to repeal Obama Care, might have their hearts touched.

The Payne/Lacey story began two years ago when the Spartans basketball team made a goodwill tour of a Lansing hospital. The players and head coach Tom Izzo were told about a young girl who is a basketball fan.

Lacey, whose family lives in nearby St. John’s, was bed-stricken as she received treatment for neuroblastoma, a rare cancer of the nerves that afflicts mostly children. Other players were in the room visiting her, but Lacey told the nurses she liked Payne the best for his smile.

Payne and Lacey bonded quickly. The friendship between the 6-foot-10, 235-pound Payne and his biggest little fan grew quietly with visits and text messages.

“She calls me her ‘Superman,’ but she’s the one who’s got the super strength,” Payne told the Detroit Free Press. “She’s incredible with everything she’s gone through. (Doctors) told her she wouldn’t walk again. But she did. She’s just an incredible fighter. And if I can bring her a little bit of happiness to help her forget everything for a little while, then that’s what I want to do.”

Lacey’s parents, Matt and Heather, say Payne has a big heart and they are grateful for the encouragement he has brought into her life.

On Senior Night, a ceremony for families to join Michigan State’s seniors for recognition on the court, Payne held hands with Lacey as his escort from the tunnel to center court.

When Michigan State won the Big Ten tournament title in Indianapolis, Lacey wore a “Big Ten champions” hat at the traditional net-cutting ceremony. As Payne climbed the ladder, he hoisted Lacey with one arm and they clipped their share of the twine.

ESPN basketball analyst Jay Bilas watched a video of the Michigan State team banquet that featured Lacey. He sent out a Twitter message about the story. Bilas had never signed up to follow anyone on his Twitter account, but his message said he had made his first exception to follow Princess Lacey at her account, @adorablelacey.

A fund-raiser staged at a Buffalo Wild Wings restaurant in East Lansing to help pay hospital costs raised $20,000. T-shirts and bracelets are sold to raise more needed funds.

One of the best parts of the story is Payne and Lacey had genuinely bonded two years ago before their friendship grew into a local story around Lansing and East Lansing, then a state-wide story and now a national story. There were segments aired on the “NBC Nightly News” and ABC’s “Good Morning, America” while Michigan State was in New York for the NCAA East Regional at Madison Square Garden.

But the Spartans, who were the pick of many, including President Obama, to win the national title, were upset on Sunday by Connecticut. The next chapter, fueled by Michigan State’s presence in the Final Four, would have generated more publicity and funding for Lacey’s cause. But without the Spartans playing, Americans have a short attention span.

What’s sadder, though, is not every little girl has a shining knight in Spartan armor such as Payne to raise awareness.

There are untold other Americans who are victims of catastrophic health care costs that can bankrupt a family without Obama Care protection. There are too many Lacey Holsworth storiesĀ and not enough Adreian Payne knights.

Payne’s next stop is the NBA as a first-round draft pick. The Holsworth family says they hope to establish a foundation in Lacey’s name.

With Michigan State eliminated from the tournament and Payne no longer governed by NCAA rules, maybe there should be a health care advertising campaign featuring Payne and Lacey. The ad would explain the health care protection families can receive from catastrophic medical expenses. Maybe Magic could join the ad, too.

As Bilas said, in an MLive.com interview, of the Payne/Lacey story, “If you could watch that with a dry eye, you don’t have a heart.”

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