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Professional athletes do a lot of good in their communities, and I wish that they got more publicity for their efforts. The bad stuff always gets in the newspapers or on TV, but the hours spent helping others just don't seem to make a good story.

At least that's the way the media seems to look at it. I see it, quite naturally, from the athlete's side. And while I think players should be acknowledged for their positive contributions, I know that's not their motivation. They get plenty of cheers and applause elsewhere.

They do it to do good. The giving of their time and compassion comes back tenfold in emotional payoffs. And while I heartily support all the wonderful programs athletes conceive and execute, I'm most thrilled and moved when athletes dedicate themselves to children. That's how I learned about Brian Grant and why I'm proud to include him as a Companion in Courage.

Dash Thomas, a twelve-year-old boy suffering from cancer, first introduced me to Brian. During the NBA lockout in 1998 I heard Dash say that Brian, a forward for the Portland Trail Blazers, was his best friend. Because so many of the children that I met at Buffalo General's cancer ward numbered among my best friends, I decided I needed to know more about Brian Grant.

During the lockout Brian started driving to Sublimity, Oregon, a one-hour ride from Portland, to visit Dash, who had been diagnosed with brain cancer. Dash, a young white kid, and Brian, a black NBA power forward who wore dreadlocks, forged a firm friendship. They became each other's heroes.

When the lockout ended, Brian wanted to get Dash to a game. Unfortunately, that never happened. His young friend died in February. Brian dedicated his season to Dash Thomas.

The NBA lockout will be remembered as a labor dispute, a fight between millionaire players and billionaire owners. Brian Grant got something entirely different from it. "Because of the lockout, Dash died before he could come to a game. On the other hand, without the lockout, I wouldn't have had as much time to get to know him," he said. "There was something about the way he carried himself. He wasn't like a twelve-year-old kid. It was like he was older. His courage - everything about him - was amazing. He was an inspiration. My relationship with Dash changed my life."

During the playoffs, Grant battled the best power forward in the league, Karl Malone, to a standoff. During their epic struggle one of Malone's famous elbows caught Brian in the right eye, opening a gash that took six stitches to close. It also opened a window into his psyche.

While many of Brian's fellow NBA players played Amateur Athletic Union basketball and in the much-touted summer camps before being drafted, Brian was cutting tobacco and baling hay back in Georgetown, Ohio. He watched his dad and uncles weld boxcars - hard, nasty, physical labor. He saw them, with no first-aid kits available and no time to waste, slice potatoes in half and put them on their cuts to ease the pain from their burns. One night Grant's father came home with a bandage over his eye. He had been hit by a piece of hot metal.

So a six-stitch gash? What should that mean next to the struggles of Brian's father, his uncles, and a frail twelve-year-old named Dash, hospitalized in Sublimity, Oregon? Brian's attitude? "Stitch it up and let's play!"

Brian continues to excel in the NBA, though he now plays with the Miami Heat, but he also stands out in his work with children.

Brian has many young friends and a growing list of community leaders who respect him. His future holds so much promise. But he is never, ever far from his past, never really removed from family in Georgetown, Ohio, or separated from the memory of a boy named Dash.

Pat LaFontaine
Former Professional Hockey Player
Excerpted from his book, "Companions in Courage"

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