There is a heavy black curtain that separates the rest of the world from the Toronto Raptors when they practice, as they did Thursday, on the glistening floor of the Air Canada Centre.
When the players and coaches are ready, someone pulls back the curtain and the rest of the world, represented by the sports media, pours in.
Behind the black curtain, yesterday a giant stood for a few moments among the Raptors.
His name is Andre Boothe. He is 21-years-old and a lifetime Whitby resident.
He is about five-foot-six, maybe 130 pounds.
His breathing is a little shallow. That’s a leftover from his double lung transplant.
His skin isn’t a uniform hue. That’s the result of his bone marrow attacking its body.
Andre was not brought in to be an inspiration, although he is that and more. He isn’t a motivational speaker and the only basketball he played was pickup in his early teens.
Andre is a product of the very best in us. He radiates and attracts kindness.
Andre had a cancerous tumor removed when he was five. That brought chemotherapy. Three years later, another took its place. That too was removed and was followed by another round of chemo.
“I had a good run after that,” Andre said as the players, all blood and youth, popped jumpers a few feet away from the sideline seats where we spoke.
“ I was going to school but at 15 I was having a jaw surgery and the doctor saw something that concerned him in the blood work,” he said.
Andre had leukemia. That brought a bone marrow transplant which in turn compromised his lungs, necessitating a double transplant.
A man named Jason Brass listened to Andre at a banquet a few months ago. He bid on a draw prize that included access to a Raptors practice. He gave the prize to Andre. Kindness.
Cancer doesn’t increase IQ but it can germinate love, kindness, grace and acceptance, not just in the sick but in everyone they touch. It touched Jason Brass. Yesterday, it extended to the Raptors who, to a man, stopped, spent a moment, lent an ear, surrounded Andre in the huddle and extended their hand, with his, at the moment the huddle broke.
Andre volunteers and runs a chat room for the Starlight Children’s Foundation, an organization that brings a welcome element of play to children inside and outside the hospital. He is a full-time student at Durham College’s community services and child study program. Whatever work he finds after school will involve helping people. Kindness.
I asked him if he felt envious of the athletes who moved so powerfully, so gracefully only a few feet away. He said, instead, he felt lucky and grateful: for his doctors, for the chance to finally take a family vacation last year, for the person who signed a donor card, lost their life and saved his, for all the people who made his moment behind the black curtain possible.
“I’ve met so many great people through my illness,” he said. “I try to think about that and about what I am doing now.”
“There are,” said Andre, “a lot of answers I really don’t have.” Then he paused and took a gentle breath.
“I feel very strongly about not taking life for granted,” he said.