Joseph Tagaban drew inspiration from Klay Thompson. Thompson, the Golden State Warriors sharpshooter, missed two full seasons as he battled through Achilles and ACL injuries. His hard work paid off as he played a key role in bringing the Warriors their fourth NBA title since 2015.
Tagaban is 15 years old and a native of Petersburg, Alaska. He’s a basketball fan, but more specifically, he’s a Thompson fan. Last year, Tagaban was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia, a rare form of cancer. That’s when his admiration for Thompson grew stronger, as the teenager admired the hard work and dedication it took for him to return to the court.
Last Friday, the two met. Thompson presented Tagaban with a rare, personal gift that must have the late Kobe Bryant smiling.
Klay Thompson and Joseph Tagaban have shown the true hearts of a champion
After not seeing an NBA court since the 2018-19 season because of a pair of devastating injuries, Thompson returned to action this year on Jan. 9. He played 32 regular-season games and played a major role during Golden State’s playoff run. In all, he missed a total of 941 days.
Not only did he provide a spark for the Warriors, but he also served as an inspiration for Tagaban, who has always been a Thompson fan. Thompson became his idol after Tagaban saw all the hard work it took for him to come back. ESPN’s My Wish captured the bonding between the two, featuring their meeting on Wednesday.
“After I saw what he was able to accomplish, his ability to do that just grew on me quite a lot,” said Tagaban, per The Mercury News. “That’s why he’s my favorite player.”
Tagaban’s mother, Jessielea, was stunned by her son’s outlook after receiving the devastating cancer diagnosis.
“The whole world turned upside down and changed our life forever,” she said. “I told him, ‘I’d rather take over, I’d rather be sick than you, you’re too young and you have so much life left.’ He said, ‘Mom, I’m younger, I can get through this, and if God put me through this, He can help me get through this.’”
Tagaban had his ups and downs during treatment. After a 108-day stay in the hospital, he returned to the basketball court, lifting his high school junior varsity team to victory with a buzzer-beater.
Thompson leaves Tagaban with a special gift
Thompson and Tagaban spent about an hour together on the court, bonding like brothers. Then the Warriors star took Tagaban and his younger brother, Jacob, for ice cream.
“They remind me a lot of my brothers when I was young and just to hang with them,” Thompson said. “It was an incredible day.”
Thompson gave his newfound friend a box of Warriors gear, including several signed jerseys. The biggest gift Thompson gave to Tagaban was one of his most prized possessions.
He reached into his backpack and pulled out a black folder. He opened it up, revealing an autographed photo of Bryant, who died in a helicopter crash in January 2020. Thompson handed it to Tagaban.
“That’s yours, man,” Thompson said. “That’s yours.”
“No, you should keep it,” a shocked Tagaban said.
“Frame it, and I want you to have it. That’s classic Kobe right there from Kobe camp, 2007. I want you to have this. That’s my idol right there, he’s the greatest.”Klay Thompson to teenager Joseph Tagaban
When the meeting ended and Thompson headed back to his car, he explained why he gave up one of his most treasured possessions.
“I just know he’s going through a hard time and I know he’ll cherish that photo,” Thompson said. “Just such a special photo of mine and I decided to hook him up. He’s a great young man. He deserves it.”