JJ's Special Night

A Serendipitous Social Media Encounter

by Brian Witt

"OMGoodness you made me cry. And I'll explain why. And then you'll cry too."

For much of the last year, Katie Snow has spent her time traveling the country and globe as the primary caretaker of the Warriors' 2017 NBA Championship Trophy. But on a Sunday morning in December 2017, she was just like many other 20-somethings, scrolling through her Facebook timeline before encountering a video that would prompt her to act.

The video was posted by Church & Sons Painting Co., a local company owned by Jeff Church based in Antioch, California. Jeff's business specializes in interior and exterior painting but it's not just family-owned. It's also family operated, as Jeff is often joined by his son JJ while on the job. The company's website and Facebook page are littered with photos of father and son, often with big smiles on both of their faces. It's an especially endearing partnership when you come to know a little more about JJ.

JJ has Down syndrome, a genetic disorder caused by the presence of either all or part of a third copy of chromosome 21. It's the most common chromosomal condition in the United States, as approximately one in every 700 and about 6,000 total babies with Down syndrome are born in the U.S. each year. In addition to their painting business, Church & Sons Painting Co. also serves as an advocate for Down syndrome and special needs awareness, with JJ often the focal point. The photos and posts paint an uplifting picture of the happiness someone living with Down syndrome can experience, despite their affliction.

One such post displayed JJ's abundance of passion for following the Golden State Warriors. Actually, a quick scan of that Facebook page will reveal numerous posts of JJ adorned in Warriors garb, but it was this particular post that made it's way into Katie Snow's feed and caught her eye.

Seeing that JJ was a big Dubs' fan and that he was based locally, Snow privately messaged Jeff to offer them tickets to an upcoming Warriors game. As it turned out, the timing of that message could not have been better or more needed.

JJ's girlfriend LaDawna also had Down syndrome, and the two developed a loving relationship together. Only a week before Snow's message, LaDawna had attended a Warriors game with her family, and came back raving about her experience. All she could talk about was getting JJ to a game with her.

Tragically, that never happened.

Two days prior to Snow's message, LaDawna choked on some food and went into cardiac arrest. She was placed on life support, and passed away the following Monday. The next day, Snow serendipitously reached out to Jeff.

It was an occurrence that would surely shake anyone to their core. But for someone with Down syndrome, it can be even more difficult to process and understand. Jeff does his best to ensure JJ "lives in a happy, harmless, safe world", but sometimes, life intervenes. JJ's heart was broken.

Snow was unaware of LaDawna's death at the time she sent her message. When Jeff received it, he was deeply moved. He explained what had happened, and how difficult it had been for JJ, and how a Warriors game would be a perfect way to commemorate the bond that he and LaDawna shared. His response began with the testimony at the beginning of this story. Perhaps now you're crying, too.

Upon hearing this, Snow snapped into action. Her original plan had been to offer the Church's her own two tickets in the upper bowl of Oracle Arena, but the additional context prompted her to go further. Through her additional efforts, she was able to upgrade their seats to the lower bowl, and most importantly, secure them passes to get on the court for the pregame shootaround.

"I just wanted to make JJ's trip to Oracle as special as we could," said Snow.

The night of the game, Snow met the Churchs outside of the arena and escorted them down to the court where JJ's special night began.

With a beaming smile from ear to ear, JJ sat on a chair adjacent to the Warriors' tunnel, in perfect position to get an up-close and personal view of the players he so frequently cheers on T.V. As the players emerged from the tunnel and onto the court, many stopped by JJ's seat to say hello, share a laugh and give him some signed memorabilia. After receiving an autographed hat from Jordan Bell, JJ held it in his hands and stared at it for several seconds before kissing the brim. He was living a dream come true.

That night, the Warriors defeated the Lakers in front of JJ and a sold out crowd, placing the cherry on top of an evening he and his adoring father will always remember. The countless photos and videos they took that night were posted on their Facebook page over the coming days, and in each one, there's JJ, as happy as can be. It's incredibly unfortunate that he never got to attend a game with his girlfriend, but Snow and the Warriors were more than happy to help provide a fond memory for JJ to associate with LaDawna during such a challenging time in his life.

Losing a loved one is sadly something far too many of us can relate to, yet very few of us can say we've lived in JJ's shoes. While his story may have been borne out of heartbreak and tragedy, with each passing day it becomes more and more about the resilience and spirit of one truly special person.