Yitzi Teichman Granted Wish to Be a Laker
What does it take for an 18-year-old to make it in the NBA?
“It’s either you gotta be good at basketball or have cancer,” Yitzi Teichman nonchalantly said behind his round glasses. “So I went with the cancer route.”
Just 10 months after undergoing surgery to remove a brain tumor, Teichman — a high school student from Baltimore — signed a ceremonial one-day contract with the Lakers on Sunday thanks to the team’s partnership with the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
With his parents and seven siblings in attendance, Teichman inked his deal alongside Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak before the team’s game against Charlotte.
After putting down the pen, the teenager in the grey "Los Angeles Basketball" shirt displayed his trademark humor, which he relied on while battling his cancer.
Asked about his chances of playing that night, he responded that he’d probably stay on the bench, since “that’s where I find myself in most sports.”
Long before finally leaving Staples Center with a trash bag full of treasures, including autographs from the likes of Kobe Bryant and Julius Randle, Teichman said that his day began like most others.
He knew what was in store, but it finally hit him when he was picked up by a limousine and shipped off to the arena, then ushered into the Lakers’ locker room where he met Bryant, who immediately took notice of the Lakers shirt that had been given to the guest.
“The shirt was dirty, so he got me a new shirt,” Teichman said. “He has my back.”
But Teichman didn’t need a laundry mishap to know that the future Hall of Famer was in his corner. Before his surgery, Bryant sent a video of support to Teichman, which the latter posted on Instagram.
“I hear you got a big challenge ahead,” Bryant said in the grainy footage with 260 likes and 45 comments from friends and strangers alike. “But I know you will respond just like we do and take the challenge straight on and come out stronger and tougher for it.”
Indeed, the road was a daunting one for the lifelong Lakers fan, who grew up in Valley Village and joked that his first word was “Kobe.”
His father, Michael, described the family atmosphere as “very, very rough” during the depths of Yitzi’s duel with cancer. He spent this past summer undergoing radiation treatment in Boston for two months.
“We didn’t know what the future was going to be,” Michael said. “We didn’t know if he was going to live or die.”
And though comedy has fueled his recovery, Yitzi himself realizes how dire his diagnosis was.
“A lot of people who have my surgery end up in wheelchairs or dead,” he said. “The fact that I’m able to fly out here is amazing.”
An amazing feat warranted an amazing experience, as he was whisked out of his presser and into the team’s pregame shootaround. After meeting Lakers legend Magic Johnson, he watched the game near the team’s bench before ending the day by hanging out with Bryant and co. in the locker room.
“He was just like part of the crew,” Bryant said. “He just came in here, hung out, sat next to me. He was here for the pregame, here for halftime and here postgame. He fit in very well.”
Though he might not have let the five-time champion know it, Yitzi acknowledged that the shock would probably hit him later.
“I’m gonna go home tonight and be like, ‘Oh my god, I just hung out with Kobe Bryant,’” he said, smiling.
For what it’s worth, Bryant didn’t seem to mind having him around at all.
“He has an amazing spirit and also a positive outlook on his situation in terms of how he was able to pick it up,” Bryant said.
That spirit was on full display just one week earlier across the country.
Less than a year after undergoing surgery — and admittedly without much training — he completed the Miami Half-Marathon on Jan. 24.
“One of the main reasons I signed up was to tell myself and show people that I may have cancer and surgeries and radiation treatment, but I’m still a kid,” Yitzi said. “I can still run. I can still be active. That’s one of the main reasons I did it.
“Everyone starts treating you differently and you become this sorry case. I wanted to go out there and run with a bunch of healthy people just to show them: I’m here.”
Yitzi also powered through the 13.1 miles in support of Chai Lifeline — a non-profit centered on helping Jewish children with potentially fatal illnesses — which visited him both at his home and in the hospital.
In Hebrew, Chai means “life,” which is something that the entire Teichman family has come to value even more.
“My wife and I were thinking, it’s so beautiful that he’s been on this journey of life and death, and he came out with this strong life,” Michael said.
For one day, that life included being a Laker. Back in Baltimore, he will continue to battle his cancer and receive treatment for “a while,” according to his mother, Devora.
But he also has normal teenage dilemmas, like deciding on which local college to attend: the University of Maryland-College Park or Towson University.
Yet, unlike his peers, he spent his Sunday snapping selfies with Lakers, splashing buckets on the Staples Center floor and holding up a gold jersey with “Teichman” across the back.
Fittingly for the teen who wouldn’t let cancer prevent him from finishing races in the tropics or hanging with NBA icons, his jersey number, 18, is considered symbolic of a certain concept in his Jewish culture: Chai.
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