March Madness is one of the most exciting times of the sports year. Upsets like Mercer over Duke, Cinderellas like Dayton, and emerging stars like Frank Kaminsky are often the on-court highlights from March Madness, but it is often off-court stories that really leave a lasting impression on the sports world. This year was no different, as March Madness introduced us to the beautiful relationship between Michigan State star Adreian Payne and eight-year-old Lacey Holsworth, also known as “Princess Lacey.”
Lacey had a fatal nerve-cell cancer called Neuroblastoma, which caused her to be hospitalized constantly in order to get treatment and chemotherapy. During one of her stints in the hospital, fate united her with Payne, and they had an immediate connection. Payne would constantly visit Lacey in the hospital and invited her to a few home games. Their bond grew stronger and stronger, and Payne even called Lacey his “little sister.” He even carried her around the court after Michigan State’s senior night and brought her to cut down the nets with him after Michigan State won the Big Ten Tournament this year.
Lacey was a small celebrity to Michigan State fans and in Big Ten country, but the whole country was introduced to this beautiful little girl during Michigan State’s run in the NCAA Tournament. She was at all of Michigan State’s games during their run in the East Regional and accompanied Payne to the NCAA Dunk Contest, where her smile and resilience through such hard times really made the country fall in love with her. Payne always reiterated how hard he was playing for Lacey, and you could see through his passion and emotion that he was determined to make his little sister proud.
Then, tragedy struck. This past week, the sports world was stunned to hear that Lacey Holsworth had died in her home. This was extremely devastating, not only because she was so young, but because Lacey seemed so strong and happy as she cheered on Payne just days before in the Dunk Contest. I know I struggled to hold back tears as I was reading and hearing about this story and as I wrote this article. Following Lacey’s death, Payne tweeted: “It was time for my lil princess to go home & feel no more pain, now she’s happy & she’s my angel watching over me.” It’s obvious that Lacey changed Payne’s life just as much as he changed hers. Support from all over the sports world came pouring in through social media and various media outlets as well.
This story showed the bond between two strangers from two completely different backgrounds whose paths crossed and taught the country the power of friendship and love. This unlikely bond touched everyone who followed or watched the tournament this year. Even though Lacey is gone, I expect her to live on with Payne as he moves on to the NBA and continues to spread her spirit throughout the country. Prior to the tournament, we all knew what a great player Adreian Payne was, but now everyone knows what a great person he is too. I think it’s safe to say that if more athletes and people in general were like Payne, the world would be a better place.