Bonded by Hometown, Chandler Supports Family Facing Hard Times

by Brian Seltzer Reporter

How hard you’ve got it in life oftentimes, more than anything else, is a matter of perspective.

Wilson Chandler and four-year old Levi Payne have a couple things in common.

Both are from Benton Harbor, Michigan, and these days, both aren’t 100 percent.

Chandler, acquired by the 76ers in a summer trade with Denver, is currently rehabbing a left hamstring strain suffered last month.

Young Levi, as Chandler would tell you himself, is dealing with far graver, more serious circumstances.

You’d hardly know it, though, based on on Levi’s spirits.

During Tuesday’s shootaround at Seaholm High School in suburban Detroit, Chandler and Levi met or the first time.

Chandler recently heard of Levi, who has a brain tumor, not long after Chandler got hurt in the Sixers’ pre-season opener.

Through mutual friends from Benton Harbor, a small town of less than 10,000 people along the eastern shore of Lake Michigan, Chandler and the Paynes connected, and he ended up inviting the family to join him on this week’s stop in Motown.

The group had dinner Monday evening after the Sixers landed in the area. The Paynes then hung out with Chandler at shootaround the next morning.

Levi, despite being dealt a difficult hand, was exactly as you’d expect someone his age to be - upbeat, cheery, full of innocence, and thrilled to be in the company of pro basketball players.

“I’ve been around a lot kids my whole life,” Chandler said, “so it was kind of sad for me to hear just how happy he was, through everything. It kind of made me tear up a little bit, so I just wanted to reach out.”

As close knit as Benton Harbor may be, Chandler and the Paynes never crossed paths directly prior to Tuesday. But Levi and his family did attend one of the 10-year vet’s Fourth of July community parties.

“Everybody knows everybody,” said Yasmine Payne, Levi’s mom. “It’s a small town. Everybody knows Wilson.”

For Chandler, the stature he holds in his hometown is a point of pride. It brings with it a sense of obligation, too.

“In the area we come from, there aren’t a lot of people,” he said. “It’s definitely good to give back. It’s a pretty poverty-stricken place, and definitely a blessing to be able to do stuff like this.”

Over the course of the Sixers’ hour and a half workout Tuesday, wherever Chandler was, Levi was close by.

First, Chandler, with a little help from Brett Brown, presented the youngster with a personalized jersey.

There was some swag for Levi’s sisters, Lyric (6) and Lei’ah (3), too.

At one point, Brown asked Levi how strong he was. The question prompted Levi to flex a bicep…

...and drop into push ups.

Later in the morning, Levi questioned Chandler about the ice bag wrapped around his left knee. Chandler was taken aback a bit.

“When I took the ice off, he was like, did that make you feel better? I should be asking him if he’s alright.”

All you’d need is a few minutes around Levi to feel the good vibes and positive energy he oozes. His mother, Yasmine, described him as a 2K-loving kid (before Tuesday, he sometimes, randomly, would play as the Sixers against his sisters) who loves listening to music in the car.

“He just sings,” said Yasmine. “He doesn’t even know the words.’

For someone of such a young age, Levi can also put on a brave face, and stay focused on the positives.

In the face of unexpected hardship and adversity, Tuesday’s experience offered a timely respite.

“He just likes basketball, so he’s just having fun,” Yasmine said about Levi. “This is just something that can be talked about in the future. This isn’t something we would have planned ourselves. It’s a good experience for us.”

At the end of shootaround, the Sixers had Levi break down the huddle.

There was also a chance to get more signatures…

....and hand out #LeviStrong bracelets.

Before the Paynes headed back across the state, there was one last memory to be made Tuesday - attending the Sixers’ game at Little Caesars Arena.

“He’s happy, he’s strong,” Chandler said of Levi. “When you got someone like that going through things, and still to be able to be happy and strong and show no signs of weakness, it kind of put everything into perspective.”


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