Home Nike kobe This Alaskan teenager hung out with Klay Thompson. He left with one of the Warriors star’s most prized possessions

This Alaskan teenager hung out with Klay Thompson. He left with one of the Warriors star’s most prized possessions

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SAN CLEMENTE — Joseph Tagaban knew he was going to spend a day with his basketball idol Klay Thompson last week, but it was a moment involving Thompson’s own hoops hero that provided a real surprise.

Shortly after Thompson welcomed the 15-year-old to his off-season training location on Friday, Thompson pulled out of his backpack a crisp matte black folder with “Nike basketball” printed on the front. He carefully opened it to reveal an autographed photo of the late Kobe Bryant and handed it to Joseph.

“I feel like I shouldn’t even touch it,” Joseph said, looking at the photo in amazement.

Whenever the 32-year-old Thompson went through tough times, especially over the past three years as he rehabilitated from back-to-back injuries, the now four-time NBA champion looked to Bryant for inspiration.

But over the past year and a half, it was Thompson who served as the motivation for Joseph as he fought the battle of his life.

“It’s up to you, man,” Thompson said. “It’s yours.”

Joseph was in shock. “No, you should keep it,” the teenager insisted.

“Frame it, and I want you to have it,” Thompson said with a smile. “It’s classic Kobe from the Kobe camp in 2007. I want you to have that. He’s my idol there, he’s the greatest.

Joseph had been a Thompson fan since before the Petersburg, Alaska native started playing basketball in fifth grade. But his admiration for the Warriors star grew when he witnessed how he handled the odds.

SAN CLEMENTE, CA – JULY 15, 2022: A look at the autographed photo of the late Kobe Bryant that Klay Thompson gave to 15-year-old Joseph Tagaban at a gymnasium on July 15, 2022 in San Clemente, California. The Warriors star will be featured alongside Joseph, who is from Petersburg, Alaska, on ESPN’s “My Wish” segment this week. (Madeline Kenney/Bay Area News Group)

“After seeing what he was able to accomplish, his ability to do it grew a lot,” said Joseph, whose day with Thompson was featured on ESPN’s “My Wish” series Wednesday morning. “That’s why he is my favorite player.”

The Tagaban family lives in a small town nestled between British Columbia and the Gulf of Alaska. Their neighbors know Joseph for his love of basketball and can often hear him playing in the family’s gravel driveway. But the echo of a basketball rebound stopped last year after Joseph was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia, which was detected from a biopsy of a lesion on the mouth of the boy.

“The whole world rocked and changed our lives forever,” recalls the boy’s mother, Jessielea.

Mom drew her strength from her son who faced the diagnosis of a rare cancer fearlessly. As she began to break down, Joseph comforted her.

“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,'” Jessielea recalled. I can get through this and if God gets me through this, he can get me through this.'”

The toll of the trip weighed heavily on the Tagaban family. Jessielea quit her job so she could travel and stay with Joseph, who was undergoing treatment at Seattle Children’s Hospital. It was the longest time between her and her son away from 12-year-old Jacob, who struggled with distance. Meanwhile, dad Ed splits his time between Seattle and home while their eldest, Briana, serves in the Air Force.

Joseph remained resilient through it all, but he looked forward to playing basketball. The closest he could get was diving into a basket of plastic toys meant for young children. He spent most of his time studying the highlights of Thompson, which at times served as a temporary escape from the four walls he was confined to.

Joseph was due to undergo five rounds of chemotherapy, which he started early last year. Although he went into remission in January 2021 after the first cycle, doctors continued the treatment plan for three more cycles before stopping in October due to drug-related complications.

“It got to the point where we were wondering if the treatments were going to kill him, not the cancer,” his father said.

Joseph reached a breaking point at the end of August during his fourth cycle of chemotherapy. His mother had finished cooking him a home-cooked meal at the Ronald McDonald House when she found him sobbing in the hospital bathroom.

“It doesn’t make sense,” Joseph had told her after he again contracted a fever and an infection. “I’m tired, I’m done.”

Joseph had a breakthrough soon after, with his team of doctors feeling confident enough to wrap up his treatments, though he still travels to Seattle every three months for checkups and tests. He is fine, he and his parents said, but doctors are still working to determine the cause of his low platelet count.

Joseph returned to the basketball court in January after being discharged from hospital in November 2021 after a 108-day stay. In his first game back, Joseph led his high school junior varsity team to victory with a buzzer-beater field goal.

SAN CLEMENTE, CA – JULY 15, 2022: Klay Thompson shoots hoops with 15-year-old Joseph Tagaban at a gymnasium on July 15, 2022 in San Clemente, California. The Warriors star will be featured alongside Joseph, who is from Petersburg, Alaska, on ESPN’s “My Wish” segment this week. (Madeline Kenney/Bay Area News Group)

Joseph proudly showed Thompson a clip of the game winner on an iPhone. The NBA star was impressed with the return of the storybook.

“That was awesome!” exclaimed Thompson.

Joseph and Thompson spent around an hour on the court together, with Thompson bouncing off Joseph’s shots – not hard work when the teenager rarely misses.

“I think we’ve found the best shooter in the gym,” Thompson said at one point.

Joseph picked Thompson’s brains out on shooting techniques, and Thompson excitedly took Joseph and his younger brother Jacob for a ride in his custom Lincoln Continental convertible and some ice cream. Thompson sent Joseph off with a box full of Warriors gear, including several signed jerseys.

“They remind me a lot of my brothers when I was young and just hanging out with them,” Thompson said, “it was an amazing day.”

Joseph added: “It really was a dream come true.”

The two exchanged contact details, and Thompson encouraged Joseph to contact them anytime.

His parting wisdom was to focus on the task at hand, whether it was flossing or making his bed. (Thompson later joked that he didn’t start doing the latter until he was older.) He told Joseph to try to stay present and in the moment every day he can. .

Just before they parted ways, Thompson tapped Joseph’s father on the shoulder.

“Pops, can I see this one more time?” he asked, pointing to the black folder. Thompson carefully opened it and pulled the autograph photo out of his pocket before holding it up, with the crashing waves of San Clemente Beach as a picturesque backdrop.

“It’s so cool, it’s the GOAT,” Thompson said.

As he walked back to his car, Thompson explained why he was ready to part with one of his most prized possessions.

“I just know he’s going through a tough time and I know he’ll treasure this photo,” Thompson said. “Just such a special photo of me and I decided to hook him up. He’s a great young man, he deserves it.

SAN CLEMENTE, CA -- JULY 15, 2022: 12-year-old Jacob Tagaban and 15-year-old Joseph Tagan enjoy an ice cream cone with Klay Thompson at a beach on July 15, 2022 in San Clemente, California.  The Warriors star will be featured alongside Petersburg, Alaska native Joseph on ESPN
SAN CLEMENTE, CA – JULY 15, 2022: Jacob Tagaban, 12, and Joseph Tagan, 15, enjoy an ice cream cone with Klay Thompson at a beach on July 15, 2022 in San Clemente, California. The Warriors star will be featured alongside Joseph, who is from Petersburg, Alaska, on ESPN’s “My Wish” segment this week. (Madeline Kenney/Bay Area News Group)