DALLAS –It was a night fit for a princess. And in this case, the princess was Anna Blackwell.
Back on Feb. 25, Anna was treated to a very special night, thanks to the Dallas Mavericks and to the folks at Make-A-Wish North Texas. On that night, Anna and her family were picked up at their home in Carrollton by a limo driver and driven to American Airlines Center, where they dined at the VIP Patron Lounge.
Thanks to a generous donor, the Blackwells also were seated courtside near the Mavs’ bench for that night’s game against the New Orleans Pelicans.
Before the game, Anna went through some warm-up drills with the Mavs for approximately 10 minutes. And after the game her wish of meeting Mavs superstar forward Dirk Nowitzki and playing a game of HORSE with the NBA’s No. 6 all-time leading scorer was realized.
What made the night so surreal for Anna is that all of this magic happened on the one-year anniversary of her undergoing surgery to repair a left temporal brain tumor.
“It was a year after my surgery, so it was my one-year surgery date,” Anna said. “Having the floor seats and being able to watch the game and be really up close and personal was pretty cool.
“They were the best seats in the house. And just to come after the game and spend quite a long time with Dirk meant a lot to me.”
Anna played two games of HORSE with Nowitzki, who — to somewhat level the playing field — played in his bare feet.
“I almost beat him the second time,” Anna said. “I got up to the ‘S’ and I knew I wanted to make a free throw at the end just to beat him with a free throw, but he hit a three before I could hit a free throw.
“He hit some pretty hard trick shots, and he hit a lot of threes. I actually made one of the threes that he shot.”
Anna’s parents and her 11-year old brother, Patrick, were there for the memorable occasion.
“It was the one night where it was just about her, and she didn’t have to worry about anything,” Anna’s mom, Stephanie Blackwell, said. “It was just all about Anna, it was so nice.”
“I saw a true smile and true joy on her face – you can look back on the pictures and just see it, and it was genuine. It was a night we could all get away together and not worry about anything.”
Jared Mullins, the vice-president of major gifts for Make-A-Wish North Texas, acknowledged that it was his employers’ heartfelt desire to make Anna’s wish come true.
“Her wish was to play HORSE with Dirk,” Mullins said. “It wasn’t just to go to a game, it wasn’t just to attend the game.
“She wanted to play HORSE with Dirk and we wanted to find a way to allow that to be granted. She’s a spectacular little girl.”
Mullins noted that Make-A-Wish has partnerships with organizations, athletes, celebrities and VIPs across the globe who are more than happy to put a smile on the face of someone like Anna.
“We’ve had incredible partnership with the Mavericks,” Mullins said. “There’s a huge significance for who they are in the Metroplex, and there’s a huge significance for who we are, so when we can come together in partnership and be able to impact a kid’s life, it’s an incredible opportunity that we’re so thankful to be able to share in with the Mavericks.
“We know that Dirk has an incredible affinity for Dallas as a whole, but we also know that Dirk has an incredible heart in all that he does for the community. He’s one-of-a-kind, and so to be able to have an opportunity to play HORSE with a one-of-a-kind is a very, very difficult process and one that takes careful consideration, but one that is absolutely achievable for the child that makes that wish such as Anna.”
The Blackwells had endured many sleepless nights wondering and worrying about Anna, who turns 14 on May 29. There were numerous occasions when Anna’s medical situation were compounded by the fact that the Blackwells experienced difficulties just trying to get the correct diagnosis.
“She had a ruptured appendix and then she had anaphylactic, and then just lingering pain,” Stephanie said. “We had been searching for awhile on her headaches, but we were searching for awhile on what was going on and not getting a clear understanding.
“So we realized part of her vision was gone, which prompted a new pediatrician and an optometrist who confirmed the vision was gone, and then the MRI confirmed the diagnosis. When you hear that diagnosis, time just stops.”
A two-week period elapsed from the time Anna received her diagnosis and underwent surgery. Stephanie said her daughter had a “super slow growing” brain tumor.
“Which means it was probably there for quite some time,” Stephanie said. “It was about a golf ball size.”
“It was a horribly, horribly scary time.”
Fast forward to over a year later, and these days Anna is now in remission and getting around just like any teenager.
“I had a brain tumor,” Anna said. “It was just a small cranioscopy.”
No radiation or chemo-therapy treatments were required.
“Hers was not malignant, so she was not needing immediate radiation or chemo,” Stephanie said. “What they do with these types is they watch and wait, and if there’s growth, then there will be radiation and possibly chemo, but there’s no reason to do it now.”
“They want you to be a little older, if you can. There’s just a little left, and so she’ll be six months of MRI and then one year, and then she’ll just continue those throughout her lifetime.”
As far as her wish — compliments of the Mavs and Make-A-Wish North Texas — coming to fruition, Anna toyed with a few ideas before deciding she wanted to meet and play a game of HORSE with Nowitzki. Anna just completed her second season as a Ball Kid for the Mavs, so she already had previously been in close proximity to Nowitzki.
But her special wish being granted was something totally different.
“I thought about maybe going to the (NBA) All-Star game or designing shoes,” Anna said. “But because I’m a Ball Kid with the Mavericks, I knew I wanted to do something basketball-related, but I didn’t know how to make the Mavericks’ thing unique, so I just started thinking.
“Dirk has been my idol for the last few years. And it just kind of came to me that why don’t I play HORSE with Dirk and kind of beat him one-on-one.”
Before the game against the Pelicans – which the Mavs won, 96-83, behind 18 points and nine rebounds from Nowitzki – Anna was in awe of becoming the recipient of something akin to the red carpet treatment.
“After that the game started, I was sitting right in front of the coaches,” Anna said. “So it was pretty cool because it was like I was a coach.”
The entire events of Feb. 25 has forever changed Anna and her perspective on life in general and on people in particular. She’s currently making and selling eye glass cases to help raise awareness and help support the Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation.
“She’s making changes in the community left and right, she’s doing support for children’s brain tumor research, she’s unstoppable,” Mullins said. “She’s the absolute kind of employee the Mavericks want to have, the absolute type of ambassador we’re so fortunate to have for our organization, and her smile was infectious that day knowing that we were able to give her her one true wish.
“Another thing that Anna did was act as an ambassador at our walk. We had a Walk For Wishes (on Apr. 1 at Reverchon Park in Dallas) and Anna was one of our ambassadors and was able to share her experience to hopefully motivate others who are in the current wish process to remain excited about the opportunities that lie ahead.”
For Stephanie, the sheer joy on her daughter’s face during her festive night at American Airlines Center was priceless.
“The Mavs have been absolutely wonderful and very supportive throughout everything,” Stephanie said. “Anna has loved Dirk forever, and he was so good.”
Now, about that first game of HORSE with Nowitzki, Anna said: “He whipped me pretty bad.” And although she came close in the second game against Nowitzki, she’s hopeful of a rematch.
“When I was five I knew I’d probably want to play HORSE with Dirk,” Anna said. “And when I’m 30 I know I’ll probably want to play HORSE with Dirk.”
By the time Anna turns 30, Nowitzki will be 54. With that timetable firmly in mind, Anna confidently said: “Then I’ll be able to beat him.”
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