Tay’s Town Opens Its Doors

Prince buys Palace suite to host young cancer patients all season

Allen Einstein/NBAE/Getty Images
The kid in an oversized white t-shirt knocked on the door. Tayshaun Prince answered it.

“Welcome to Tay’s Town,” he said. “How y’all doin’?”

He meant the question casually, but the answer is a little complicated.

They were doing great, because they were the first children to visit “Tay’s Town” - a Palace skybox that Prince, his wife Farah, corporate sponsor Meijer and the design team at Meteor Graphics renovated into perhaps the most unique, kid-friendly suite at any NBA arena.

But they also could be doing better, because they were battling cancer. Prince and the Pistons community relations department have teamed up with “Kids Kicking Cancer” - a support group for child cancer patients based out of Children’s Hospital of Michigan - to host 2-3 families at every Pistons game the rest of the season.

“For me to come out and do this, it’s just a no-brainer for me and my wife,” Prince said following Wednesday’s ribbon-cutting event. The suite still had a “new-room” smell; as recently as last week Prince was receiving updates on the installation while on the West Coast. “It’s a tough situation they’re in, but at the same time, if they can come out to a Pistons game, see their favorite players, have a couple hours of fun, that’s the most important thing.”

Several Pistons have sections of tickets they have bought and donated to underserved children in the community, but Prince is the first to have an entire suite, an idea brought to him by Dennis Sampier, the Pistons director of community relations.

"We wanted to carve out a unique space inside The Palace where kids battling the toughest of circumstances could laugh, cheer, hang out and just be kids,” Sampier said. “The suite was an ideal place for it. We wanted the kids and their families to feel completely comfortable with coming to the game and to give them a truly memorable experience. The work Tayshaun and Farah have put into this have made it possible.”

Prince said Sampier “let us throw our little wrinkles in there” when it came to designing “Tay’s Town,” which has a Nintendo Wii system, several mini-basketball hoops, a replica basketball court and Pistons beanbags. On the walls are “digital wallpapers,” making one closet door look like his actual locker, and on another door, “The Block” of Reggie Miller.

“It was a lot of fun. The design team was wonderful,” Farah said. “They gave me a lot of creative ideas and everything they presented I loved. Tayshaun loved it also so everything about the process was wonderful.”

Farah’s favorite feature was the countertop chronicling Prince’s life and career. Before the game started, it was covered in popcorn that splashed out of the bowl when an errant mini-ball landed in it. “I loved the timeline that they did, starting from when he was a child to pretty much this year. And the mural on the back wall, that turned out really nice,” she said. “Everything came together really nice and we really loved what they did.”

Tayshaun said he has not been directly affected by cancer but Farah could not say the same. That connection to the cause was the first thing she thought of when approached with the project. “It’s something close to my heart,” she said. “I’ve had a lot of people pass away from cancer, so it was something I really wanted to help with.”

Kids Kicking Cancer was founded by Rabbi Elimelech Goldberg, who lost his first child to cancer in 1983. He is a clinical assistant professor in the department of Pediatrics at Wayne State University Medical School, and also has a black belt in karate. Through Kids Kicking Cancer, Rabbi G and his instructors teach kids karate and meditation - and how the approach to those practices can help them endure the pain and stress of cancer treatments.

"Kids Kicking Cancer is a wonderful organization that encourages kids to keep their minds strong even when their bodies are weakened,” Sampier said. “Rabbi G’s commendable work builds more than strong minds; it builds heroes for the rest of us to be inspired by.”

Collin LaLonde’s three-year-old son, Luke, has acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL), which accounts for 60 percent of child leukemia, according to KidsHealth.org. “Thank God it’s 90 percent curable and he’s going very well,” said Collin, of Birmingham. “These diversions like what Tayshaun is doing tonight is what relieves some of the stress in our life right now. It’s a diversion. It’s something to which you can get away and relax. And the other nice thing is you meet other people, other survivors. It’s just a very positive thing.”

When Collin tried to get Luke to join him for the interview, he wouldn’t come at first. “I’m playing,” he said, transfixed on tossing the mini-basketball toward the hoop adorned with the “Tay’s Town” logo on the backboard. Two of the games even had motorized rims that moved left and right, like at an arcade.

Once he joined his father, Luke began squirming, desperate to wiggle his way back to the games. When asked what his favorite part of the room was, he answered a question with a question. “How do you move that thing around, the basket?”

Then he was asked what it was like to meet Prince. “They’re really fast and I couldn’t catch up to them,” he said. When Luke is older, God willing, he’ll realize Tayshaun Prince isn’t going anywhere. And neither is his Town.