This award-winning article has been placed in front of the Juneau Empire’s paywall.
Words of advice have been running through Joseph Tagaban’s mind ever since meeting his NBA idol Klay Thompson of the Golden State Warriors.
“Take small little steps, test yourself and you’ll eventually make it,” the NBA All-Star and champion told the 15-year-old boy from Petersburg. The advice takes on new meaning since Tagaban recently found out that his fight with cancer is not over as was previously thought.
“We came to Seattle to do his checkups, but we found out yesterday that, unfortunately, he’s had a relapse,” said Jessielea Tagaban, Joseph’s mother.
Last week, Joseph was able to make a dream come true through the Make A Wish Foundation when he got to meet Thompson, their meeting was even featured on ESPN’s My Wish series. However, the high has been chased by a challenging development.
“It got to me yesterday but as of now I’m feeling a little better. It’s crazy how things can turn in such a short period of time because I was just feeling fine and now, I have to be admitted back into the hospital,” Joseph said. “It just really shows me how precious time is. If anything, I should have been hanging out with my friends much more than I have been. I’m just hoping that the time I’m going to be there is going to be short because last time it was for a whole year.”
In 2020, Joseph was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia, also known as AML after a lump underneath his tooth was discovered. He was then checked into a Seattle Children’s Hospital where he spent nearly a year undergoing several rounds of chemotherapy. Joseph had eventually reached a point where doctors were feeling confident enough to end treatments, though he was still traveling to Seattle for checkups so the doctors could determine the cause of his low platelet counts.
“The blood count wasn’t showing great numbers, and the platelets were down, so we knew something was up but then he felt good, a little tired but overall seemed to be feeling better. I just didn’t want to go in the direction of believing it was coming back,” said Ed Tagaban, Joseph’s father. We just got off of a big high from the Make a Wish deal and we were just still riding that wave until yesterday came and then it all came crashing down around us.”
The Tagaban family has set up a “Joseph Strong” Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/JosephStrongPSG/ or his GoFundMe page at https://gofund.me/646e9709. They also have accounts set up so people can donate money through the Joseph Tagaban Donation Account with Wells Fargo and First Bank.
Over the years, Thompson has had obstacles of his own to overcome, with rehabilitating from back-to-back injuries, and watching Thompson persevere is what Joseph said helped him find strength to fight through his personal journey.
“It was really an inspiration to me how he was able to climb his way back to playing full time and starting in games, I had to climb my way back in my own way, too, so I could somewhat kind of relate.”
Joseph and Thompson spent the first part of their visit shooting hoops and talking shop, with Thompson not only offering life advice that’s served him well, but also a few tricks of the trade he’s learned along the way, as well.
“He was standing on the 3-point line, showing me some techniques,” said Joseph. “He showed me how he holds his shooting arm at a 90-degree angle, and he showed me how it almost doesn’t even matter where your feet are facing, so long as your shoulders are facing the basket, you can pretty much make every shot.”
Thompson then took Joseph and his younger brother Jacob out for some ice cream at the beach. Aside from basketball tips and ice cream, Thompson gifted Joseph with an assortment of Warriors gear and several signed jerseys, along with one of Thompson’s personal cherished pieces of memorabilia: an autographed photo of the late Kobe Bryant, a gift that Joseph said was nearly too precious to accept.
“I wasn’t sure if I should take it at first. If anything it should probably be put in a vault because it’s so valuable, but I’m pretty sure we’re going to be framing it and keeping it somewhere that we know it’ll be safe.”
Though the autographed photo was appreciated and of great value, Joseph said the most valuable gift Thompson gave him was his advice. Along with Thompson sharing lessons learned from his own life struggles, Joseph said he talked a lot about the importance of a positive mindset. Those sentiments have become words to live by for Joseph.
“Before I had to depart with my time with Klay, I wanted to make sure to get the most out of our time together,” Joseph said. “I asked him for advice, not just about basketball, but in general, and he talked about how important it is the way you perceive things in life. He just told me to take small little steps, to test yourself and you’ll eventually make it. He said from his own experience he had to climb little by little to get back into the game, he said life’s about facing things you might not want to face but that it all adds up in the long run.”