LeBron James dominated the Wizards with 34 points and 10 rebounds in the Cavaliers' 121-115 win Wednesday. He also played 40 minutes, a significant increase over his average per game.
Turns out he was inspired by a bigger purpose -- impressing Leah Still, who was in the audience to watch her favorite basketball player and friend.
A video posted by Devon Still (@man_of_still75) on Jan 6, 2016 at 8:29pm PST
"Absolutely. I knew she was going to be there tonight," James said when asked if her presence gave him extra motivation. "Her and Zhuri, my baby girl, are my two favorite women in the world."
"I know my mom and my wife will be a little bit jealous, but they got to take a back seat to those two. Just her strength and her courage and what she's been through over the last few years, man, it's uplifting to all of us."
The King befriended Leah after learning of her battle with pediatric cancer.
The now-5-year-old daughter of former Bengals defensive tackle Devon Still was diagnosed with stage IV neuroblastoma in 2014. Her father documented the family's courageous fight against the disease on social media, drawing press attention and generous support from around the sports world.
Today Leah is in remission and has only one more treatment left in her ordeal (scheduled for Friday). To celebrate, she and her grandmother traveled to Washington to see James play -- a first for Leah.
Her father Devon had intended to accompany her, but more happy news changed his plans: The Texans signed him to a futures contract after he'd spent the 2015 season without a team.
Had got tix to the Wizards vs Cavs game tonight so Leah could see her favorite bball player in action before her treatment. Ended up not being able to go because I had to fly to Houston but as you can see Leah wasn't about to let that stop her from seeing @kingjames tonight #iCantBlameHer #iStillLoveYouEvenThoYouWentWithoutMe #ThoughtWeWasATeam lol
A photo posted by Devon Still (@man_of_still75) on Jan 6, 2016 at 3:53pm PST
James elaborated on why he was so touched by Leah's story. "I've got a daughter," he said.
"Being a father and seeing what Devon was going through at the time, to keep that strength and keep composure when his daughter was going through what she was going through, it just resonated, man. And from that point on, we became good friends and I'm good friends with Devon."
His relationship with Leah is reminiscent of Wizards guard John Wall's friendship with Miyah Telemaque-Nelson.
Wall met his "buddy" Miyah while she was fighting Burkitt's lymphoma. He kept in touch with the 6-year-old Wizards fan throughout her treatment, spending time with her and checking in with video calls. He even helped arrange for her to meet her favorite musical artist, Nikki Minaj.
Wall and Miyah's friendship was cut short when the little girl succumbed to the cancer on December 8, 2014.
Wizards fans will remember that night well. Wall put up a spectacular 26 points and 17 assists to will Washington to a double-overtime victory. He then broke down sobbing in a postgame interview with CSN's Chris Miller.
Touched by his display of emotion, Leah's father Devon reached out to show support.
@johnwall man to man I respect the hell out of you for everything you did for Miyah and her family. I know from going through the battle myself that making memories with these kids are something you hold on to forever. No kid should have to go through this fight smh #RIPMIYAH
A photo posted by Devon Still (@man_of_still75) on Dec 9, 2014 at 11:33am PST
Wall's commitment to Miyah never wavered even after her death. He spoke at her funeral and kept in close contact with her family.
This past October, he got permission to miss a preseason game so that he could participate in the Light the Night Walk to benefit the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. He'd helped organize a team of fans and loved ones to walk in Miyah's honor.
So while James and Wall may have suited up for opposing teams on Wednesday night, they're on the same side when it comes to supporting their youngest, most vulnerable fans.