Sports

Southeast Alaska teen featured on ESPN’s ‘My Wish’ with NBA star Klay Thompson

Klay Thompson signs one of his jerseys for Joseph Tagaban

Joseph Tagaban is excited to suit up for the Petersburg High basketball team next winter when he’s in the midst of his sophomore year.

A year ago, that was anything but a certainty.

In December 2020, Tagaban was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia, a potentially aggressive form of cancer.

The 15-year-old from Southeast Alaska spent the better part of a year in Seattle receiving treatments, and his cancer is in remission. Now, after a recent meeting with an NBA superstar, Tagaban is ready to take on some opponents on the court.

Tagaban met with Golden State Warriors shooting guard Klay Thompson through Make-A-Wish, and their meeting will be part of a segment broadcast Wednesday on ESPN’s “My Wish.”

“I’ll be playing basketball next year,” Tagaban said confidently in an interview Tuesday. “If everything goes as planned, yeah, I’ll be playing basketball for sure.”

The segment with Tagaban and Thompson is scheduled to air during “SportsCenter” on Wednesday morning and on other editions of the show afterward.

Tagaban started watching basketball in 2019, when Golden State played the Toronto Raptors in the NBA Finals.

“That’s when we actually started getting inspired to play basketball, and he was the first person I actually started to watch,” he said. “The entire time I played basketball, he’s pretty much been my favorite player.”

Golden State all-star Klay Thompson puts up some shots with Joseph Tagaban

Tagaban and Thompson, a four-time NBA champion with the Warriors and a five-time NBA All-Star, met in San Clemente, California, on Friday and spent more than four hours together hanging out.

They shot hoops together and even went to get ice cream on the beach. That was when it really sank in for Tagaban that he was in the presence of an NBA star.

“It was pretty dang cool,” he said. “His head poked up above everyone else’s. He’s like, 6-foot-7, and you could really see it was Klay Thompson. There were a lot of people asking to take a photo with him. It was understandable with him being so famous.”

“He’s just a nice guy. Despite him winning all those championships, he’s still really humble and, I mean, he’s really approachable.”

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On Tuesday, Tagaban was back in Seattle, and he has tests and checkups with doctors scheduled for most of Wednesday and Thursday. That means he won’t be able to watch the segment on ESPN.

“I would,” he said. “But I am pretty much booked up all day with appointments. My friends have been asking about when they can watch it.”

“I’ve been trying not to spoil the whole film they did so (my friends) can see it on TV and they won’t know what happened.”

Since 2006, the ESPN series has partnered with Make-A-Wish to fulfill 75 sports-themed wishes for children with critical illnesses.

Tagaban said he was given a number of options by Make-A-Wish. He put his preferred choice as meeting with an athlete he admired, in this case Thompson. But that meant the process would likely take a while until schedules worked out — and even then, there was no guarantee a meeting would be secured. Once it was, the plans were kept a secret from Tagaban.

In the airport hallway, he was finally tipped off when he saw a sign that read: “Your golden wish came true for a golden guy.”

“It was a complete surprise,” he said. “I didn’t even know if that wish would actually come true.”

His mom, Je Tagaban, kept the secret by telling her son that they had to go to the Lower 48 a week early for his doctor checkup.

Tagaban said he picked Thompson’s brain on a number of topics, from basketball to personal motivation.

He said that after four difficult rounds of chemotherapy, he was thankful for his health and the experience he had with Make-A-Wish.

“I’ve got to give thanks to the people back home,” he said. “And Make-A-Wish for making this happen. Also Alaska Airlines, they were an amazing crew while I was headed down to Santa Ana. And also Klay Thompson himself.”

Golden State Warriors all-star Klay Thompson poses for a photo with Joseph Tagaban

Chris Bieri

Chris Bieri is the sports and entertainment editor at the Anchorage Daily News.

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