MEMPHIS – Head coach Doc Rivers’ typical walk from the locker room to the pre-game press conference was anything but ordinary for the 16-year-old who’d get greeted by Rivers on the way.
Six months ago, Charlie Campbell’s life got flipped upside down when his sister, one month shy of her 20th birthday, was killed by a driver right before her junior year at Samford University.
As the Campbells attempt to move forward, Charlie’s father, Clay, reached out to the Clippers to see if there was anything special they could do for Charlie, a huge Clippers fan.
The Clippers answered that call in a way Clay and Charlie never thought possible.
“We’re just thrilled,” Clay said. “It’s such a blessing for us to be here. We lost our daughter six months ago in a car accident, and I just wanted to do something for Charlie to encourage him, so I thought I’ll call and just shoot emails.”
It was a total shot in the dark.
Clay figured the Clippers would be too busy and received similar requests all the time. But he also knew it was worth a try to see if the Clippers would let him make the three and a half hour drive with his wife and his son from their native Birmingham, Ala., to Memphis for Friday’s game against the Grizzlies to try to provide something positive for Charlie, who was particularly devastated by the tragedy.
He hoped Charlie could just go to the game, maybe meet a player or meet Rivers, or have the chance to take part during the Clippers’ warm-ups.
Clay received a call back from the Clippers and director of communications Dennis Rogers, who wanted to make that happen – all of it. Charlie had gone to Clippers games before, but not like this. Clay tried to make it a surprise for Charlie, asking his son if he had any tests on Friday afternoon.
Charlie had nothing urgent, so the family took off for Memphis and the surprise of a lifetime.
“We came in, and he had no clue this was going to happen,” Clay said. “No clue whatsoever.”
Once Charlie finally figured out he’d be heading to the Clippers’ game, he still didn’t know he’d get to meet just about every player on the team, including DeAndre Jordan, Jamal Crawford and Chris Paul. He figured he’d just be sitting toward the top of the arena.
“I met Doc, I spoke with most of the guys, got a picture with Jamal and DeAndre,” Charlie said. “This has been amazing.”
Crawford even gave Charlie a pair of his shoes, exchanged numbers with Charlie and said he’d stay in touch.
“We’re playing a game and it’s wonderful, but those are real-life issues,” Crawford said. “He came in and had an orange Crawford T-shirt. I’m like, ‘Did you make this? I’ve never seen this before.’ Especially, there’s 400 players in the NBA, and he could have anybody’s T-shirt on, jersey on, and he had mine on.”
For Charlie, at least for a night, he got to experience a joy he may never have thought possible, hanging around the team that he’s grown to adore the last couple years.
“This team kind of formed and I fell in love with it,” Charlie said. “Chris Paul, he’s amazing. Blake (Griffin), he’s amazing. DeAndre’s amazing. Jamal is, like, the most amazing. This is the team.”
For Clay, the smile on his son’s face was worth everything. Clay called the Clippers a class act for making it all happen.
“What a blessing,” he said.