Everything stopped as 10-year-old Amaris Jackson entered the Washington Wizards practice gym.
The team was excited to welcome a special guest to shoot-around at the Verizon Center before Saturday night’s game against the Milwaukee Bucks. Little did they know she was about to become a teammate.
Jackson was diagnosed with renal cell carcinoma, a kidney cancer, in May 2013. Since then, she’s had two surgeries to remove two tumors, undergone two months of chemotherapy — she finished a round last Friday — and will have another surgery this week to remove a small tumor in her lungs.
But in the midst of all that, Jackson, who plays point guard for her middle school basketball team, had a wish — to “break barriers” and sign a contract with an NBA team. The Make-A-Wish Foundation’s Mid-Atlantic region made it happen.
When Jackson and her family arrived at the arena Saturday afternoon, she was brought into the Wizards locker room and presented with a personalized jersey — that she said she will wear “all the time” — and shoes. Her day would also include watching shoot-around, meeting players, and sitting in owner Ted Leonsis’ box during the game.
But before tip-off, she met with Leonsis and signed a Wizards contract. Jackson was beaming the whole time.
While the Wizards prepared for the game, Jackson stood off to the side with assistant coach and former All-Star Sam Cassell. He pointed out the plays and she followed along with wide eyes. At one point, Trevor Ariza pretended to pass it to her. Later, a few players shot baskets with her and gave her the nickname “A-Money.”
Jackson was quiet most of the time, watching intently as she was surrounded by some of her favorite players, but her mother, Parris, knows she was having the time of her life.
“This is amazing,” Parris Jackson told USA TODAY Sports. “She’s so happy. She just holds everything in, but I know she’s so happy. When she gets home she’ll want to talk about it and look at pictures.”
In spite of all she’s had to go through, Amaris Jackson is strong. She was confident on the court Saturday. At one point she hit four shots in a row. She missed the fifth one, but got the rebound and made two more off the backboard.
“To see her go through surgery then bounce back and watch her play, it’s just crazy how strong she is being so young,” her father Jose Guevara said.