He’s taught me no matter what goes on in life, just keep smiling. —Kyle Collinsworth
LAS VEGAS — Moments after his final NBA Summer League game ended, Kyle Collinsworth moseyed along the edge of the Cox Pavilion court next to his 11-year-old friend, Parker Young.
Collinsworth, a 6-foot-6 athlete, took slow, measured steps with his long legs as he traversed the hardwood at his pal's side. Parker, wearing a BYU shirt, a Dallas hat and holding a cane in one hand and autographed Mavericks shirts in the other, limped and gradually headed toward his mom and wheelchair.
A large, red NBA Summer League sign, attached high on the gym wall in front of them, shared a simple message.
“This is why we play.”
On Sept. 17, 2015, Parker was diagnosed with Ewing sarcoma, a bone disease that affects children and adolescents. Collinsworth met the young cancer patient shortly before his senior season at BYU last year. For Parker, becoming friends with a popular player from his favorite college brought joy to a kid in need of all the possible positivity in his life.
Parker's face lit up with a huge smile when asked about his basketball buddy. Does it help to have a friend like Collinsworth?
"Yep," he beamed.
The feeling is mutual. Collinsworth appreciates Parker’s optimistic attitude despite circumstances and his happy friend's infectious smile.
“It means the world,” Collinsworth said. “Every time I see this kid he’s got a smile on his face no matter what. For me, I think, ‘Oh, I’m not having a good day,’ and I look at this guy and he’s always smiling. He’s taught me no matter what goes on in life, just keep smiling.”
Parker’s optimistic attitude actually benefited Collinsworth and his BYU basketball team last season.
Early in the Cougars’ fun run to the NIT championship game in March, Collinsworth was steamrolled and bedridden by a bad case of the flu. The illness was so bad the versatile guard, who set an NCAA record for triple-doubles, wasn’t able to practice leading up to the game. He didn’t think he was going to be able to play in the quarterfinals with a chance to play in Madison Square Garden on the line.
“I was super sick,” Collinsworth said. “I had a 102-degree fever.”
Collinsworth’s uncertainty turned into a certainty after Parker reached out to him hours before tipoff.
“I didn’t know if I was going to play,” Collinsworth said, “and he texted me and said, ‘I’m coming to the game. You better play.’”
How do you tell a tough little guy who’s battling cancer that you’re not going to be able to play basketball because you’re sick?
You don't. Collinsworth wasn’t about to let Parker down.
This is why we play, all right.
“I didn’t eat food for four straight days, got out of bed, rolled up, followed my man Parker and I played,” Collinsworth recalled. “I played pretty well considering the circumstances.”
With Parker proudly watching, a sleep-deprived Collinsworth dug deep to contribute 10 points, five rebounds and four assists in BYU's 88-82 win over Creighton at the Marriott Center.
The 24-year-old Collinsworth guided Parker around the summer league in Las Vegas for a couple of days last weekend. One day, Parker got to hang out with Collinsworth and former BYU big man Brandon Davies, who played for Chicago this summer. The two Cougars squared off against each other that night with Parker in the crowd, too.
On Friday night, Collinsworth escorted Parker to the Dallas locker room following the Mavericks’ final game. Parker got the autograph of former NBA player Michael Finley. The coaches let the boy sit with the team during the postgame chat. Parker came away with a couple of signed Dallas shirts as tangible souvenirs of an unexpected trip to hang out with his hero.
“His mom surprised him and brought him down to Las Vegas,” Collinsworth said. “I told him I’d let him meet the team and hang out.”
Parker got to watch Collinsworth play one of his best games of the summer in an 80-74 victory over Golden State. He had eight points, including a mid-range jumper he was happy to hit, and dished out three assists.
Over the course of six summer league games, the NBA hopeful averaged 4.2 points, 3.3 rebounds and 2.5 assists.
“I felt like every game I got better in areas that I was challenged to get better at, whether it was running to the corner, getting to the right spots, just slowing myself down,” Collinsworth explained. “Each game I felt like I got better and that was my whole goal coming in here — no matter how the first game was, just get better each game, break down the film and keep improving.”
His stats don’t pop off the page, but Collinsworth focused on his all-around game, including staying in front of his man on defense and being a supportive team player. That could make the difference between getting a training camp invitation and being forced to play overseas or in the D-League this upcoming season.
“Whether I’m playing or on the bench, just bring the energy,” he said. “And I tried to do that all week.”
Collinsworth only took 19 shots in six games, shooting a respectable 47.4 percent with no 3-point attempts. He knows shooting, especially from distance, is an area where he needs to improve, just as it was in college.
“I didn’t shoot a lot of outside shots, but I’m working on it,” he said. “It’s a work in progress. Things like that don’t just change overnight. (I’ll) put my head down and go to work out every day.”
Collinsworth is hopeful his performance while with Dallas will lead to an opportunity in the NBA. He’s keeping his future plans private in the meantime.
“I can’t say right now, but I’ve got something in place,” Collinsworth said. “Stay tuned.”
Whatever that opportunity turns out to be for Collinsworth —whether in the NBA or in Europe or somewhere in between — it’ll surely bring a smile to the face of one of his biggest fans.
And Collinsworth will forever be grateful for that gift of grin that Parker freely gives.
“He teaches me just to smile,” Collinsworth said. “Smile through life.”
“Yeah,” Parker said, “I try to.”
“Yeah,” Collinsworth added. “You do all the time.”
Parker maintained his positive demeanor while briefly sharing details about his cancer. By the way, things are going "pretty good," the brave boy said.
"I'm almost done with treatment," he said.
Parker smiled when asked if it helps to have a friend like Collinsworth.
"I can't express it in words," he said. "It's just amazing."
This is why we play?
No better reason than that.