Make-A-Wish child inspired by Bulls' Rose

By Adam Fluck | 02.12.2015

resilience (noun re·sil·ience \ri-ˈzil-yən(t)s\): the ability to become strong, healthy, or successful again after something bad happens
-- Merriam-Webster Dictionary

In sports, it’s not uncommon to hear about teams battling through various adversities. Often, how they respond to those situations plays a significant part in their ultimate success.

Derrick Rose is no stranger to this process. Just 26 years old, he’s suffered a pair of serious knee injuries since being named the NBA’s youngest ever MVP in 2011.

Most recently, after tearing the meniscus in his right knee in November of 2013, Rose was again taken away from the game he loves. However, he stayed positive, diligently attacked his rehabilitation, and now he’s back where he belongs—on the basketball floor.

All along, Trabian Barnes, Jr. was watching.

Though he has lived in North Carolina all his life, Tray loves the Bulls. Now 13, Tray is fighting leukemia. He’s one of three boys in his family to be diagnosed with a form of cancer. But as he receives his treatment and looks forward to healthier days, it’s Rose who he thinks about when he needs motivation and inspiration.

“Tray is a basketball player, too,” explained Trabian Barnes, Sr. “When Derrick Rose went down the second time, it was a moment that really hit home for Tray. The story of Derrick working to come back again, it has motivated him as he looks at his own journey. He’s taken an interest in what it took for Derrick mentally to come back, thinking it might help him.”

This week, with the help of the Chicago Bulls and Make-A-Wish Foundation, Tray got to meet and spend some time with his idol. It was one of 13 wishes Rose will take part in this season. Since his rookie year, he has completed 31. While the Chicago native is best known for his basketball abilities, it’s his approach and attitude that resonate the most with Tray.

“I like the way he hasn’t let injuries stop him from coming back and doing what he likes to do,” said Tray. “I’ve always been a fan of his and what he does on the court. I mostly like the Bulls because my daddy has liked them. But I really started liking them because I started liking Derrick Rose.”

In the same way Tray has learned from Rose’s trials and tribulations, the Bulls point guard also took something away from their meeting.

“It means a lot to spend time with a kid who is going through what he’s going through,” said Rose. “It puts everything into perspective and lets you know that there is more going on in the world than basketball. He’s a kid who loves the game. For me to have an opportunity to meet him, I feel like it was for a reason and God planned it.”

The Barnes family’s trip to Chicago began when the team surprised them with courtside seats as the Bulls hosted the Sacramento Kings on Tuesday. Rose acknowledged the special guests during pregame warmups, then scored 23 points in the victory.

“I thought we were in NBA heaven,” said Trabian, Sr. “It was unbelievable to see the players that close. [During warm ups] Derrick came over and gave us nods. Joakim [Noah] brought us on the court to shake his hand. Aaron Brooks let him give him a pass before he put up a shot. It was cool.”

Tray and his family will also attend Thursday’s game against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.

The highlight of their Chicago trip, however, came on Wednesday, when the family visited the Advocate Center. They met Gar Forman and John Paxson while the Bulls practiced. Various other players stopped by to say hello and take pictures before the family made their way into the gym. Tray, along with his father, his brother De'ahntay and his sister Destiny hoisted jump shot after jump shot.

Then, in walked Rose, who casually introduced himself and joined them. Though Tray hasn’t been able to play as much recently due to his medical treatments, he still talked a big game when asked beforehand what he’d like Derrick to know about him.

“I’m going to tell him I can beat him in basketball,” said Tray.

But then, he actually did.

“He’s a pretty good basketball player,” Rose said. “He’s a two guard and he even beat me in a free throw shooting contest. I was playing around with him but I was still a little mad about that. But it’s all fun and games. I’m just happy he was here and he’s able to meet some of us players.”

After the session on the floor, Rose presented Tray with a personalized jersey and a pair of signed shoes. As he left, Rose thought about the Barnes family and the challenges they’ve faced.

“I can’t complain about anything, even on my toughest days, or on days when I can’t do what I want to do,” said Rose. “These are experiences that I keep in the back of my mind. They are a constant reminder but at the same time I have the belief that everything will be fine. It puts some fight in me. If a 13 year old boy I know out there is fighting leukemia and all kinds of adversity, how can I complain about getting up in the morning and going to work in the gym? It’s refreshing for me to do something like this and I’m grateful for the experience.”

Rose knows he is someone who kids of all walks of life would love to meet. He’s also aware that when he enters a room, or in this case a gym, he has the unique ability of being able to make a child’s day, just like that.

“For me, I look at it as I could be Tray’s older brother,” said Rose. “I’m 26 and he’s 13. So to have this opportunity and brighten his day, I’m happy to do it. Who knows, maybe he’ll get to the league someday or be someone who I cross paths with again in the future. I think that way so I try to treat people right and make their day better.”

As for what he tries to convey when he’s meeting a Make-A-Wish child or another young person, Rose relies on some of his own experiences.

“I tell them to stay positive no matter what circumstances they are going through or the situation that they’re in,” Rose said. “Stay positive and make sure you sacrifice some and dedicate your life to whatever your craft might be. I say sacrifice and dedicate because sacrificing shows God that you’re willing to give up something to be where you want to be. Dedication is getting up every morning, staying consistent and staying focused.”

Tray’s father said that with daily treatments and medicine, the family is optimistic he’ll weather this storm, just as his brothers have done previously. He’s confident Tray’s experience with Rose will “give him a good boost” and knows that at the end of the day, his family is unquestionably stronger as a result.

As for Tray himself, he’ll have plenty of stories to share with his friends back in North Carolina, thanks to Rose, the Chicago Bulls, and Make-A-Wish.

“It means a lot being able to come to Chicago and do all of this. It’s something that money can’t buy,” smiled Tray. “I love it.”