Northeast Times

A dream come true

Bensalem High senior Kevin Grow gets his shot with both the Philadelphia 76ers and the Harlem Globetrotters.

  • A shining star: Kevin Grow cheers during an assembly with the Harlem Globetrotters on March 5. The Bensalem High School senior with Down syndrome became the second person in history — behind Wilt Chamberlain — to play for both the Philadelphia 76ers and the Harlem Globetrotters. PHOTOS BY MARIA POUCHNIKOVA

  • Harlem Globetrotters TNT Maddox (left) and Handles Franklin were visibly moved by spending time with Bensalem High School’s Kevin Grow, who has become a household name all over the country.

  • Grow high-fives his Bensalem High basketball teammates, who have embraced Kevin as one of their own.

  • A packed house of approximately 2,000 people filled the gym at Bensalem High School to welcome the Harlem Globetrotters.

  • Grow takes part in the ceremony with Maddox and Franklin.

As a mem­ber of the world-fam­ous Har­lem Globe­trot­ters, Handles Frank­lin has vis­ited 74 coun­tries and count­ing.

But des­pite get­ting to travel the plan­et “drib­bling a bas­ket­ball for a liv­ing,” as he put it, Frank­lin had to look no farther than his nat­ive Pennsylvania to find the in­spir­a­tion of a life­time.

Frank­lin was in Par­is when he was aler­ted to the won­der­fully in­spir­ing story of Kev­in Grow, a mem­ber of the bas­ket­ball team at Ben­s­alem High School who is af­fected by Down syn­drome. Grow re­cently be­came a na­tion­al celebrity after news of the fourth-year-team-man­ager-turned play­er entered the Owls’ game on Seni­or Day last month, sink­ing four of five three-point at­tempts and fin­ish­ing with a team-high 14 points.

It’s the kind of heart­warm­ing thing you see every now and then on Sports­Cen­ter, of­fer­ing a calm­ing be­lief that there are still good people in the world who choose to stand up and fight for those so­ci­ety deems “dif­fer­ent” due to a phys­ic­al dis­order or dis­ab­il­ity. But when the same type of scen­ario plays out a stone’s throw from North­east Philly, the in­spir­a­tion bal­loons like a mush­room cloud reach­ing sky­ward to the heav­ens.

Just ask the Phil­adelphia 76ers and Har­lem Globe­trot­ters. Mem­bers of these or­gan­iz­a­tions also took no­tice of Grow’s story and took mat­ters even fur­ther, sign­ing the teen who loves dish­ing out hugs and tak­ing selfies with sup­port­ers al­most as much as he loves prac­ti­cing his jump­shot. When the Globe­trot­ters fol­lowed the Six­ers by mak­ing Grow a ce­re­mo­ni­al mem­ber of their team, he be­came the first – and only – per­son since Wilt Cham­ber­lain to lace ‘em up for both squads.

World class com­pany for a world class young man.

On March 5, Frank­lin and team­mate TNT Mad­dox, just the ninth wo­man to ever play for the Globe­trot­ters, vis­ited Ben­s­alem High School for a spe­cial as­sembly to fur­ther cel­eb­rate Grow’s re­mark­able jour­ney. Their stop at the school was multi-pur­posed: they put on a vin­tage Globe­trot­ters show, dis­play­ing nifty ball-hand­ling moves and im­possible trick shots, all while in­vit­ing Grow, his bas­ket­ball team­mates and some Ben­s­alem stu­dents from the crowd to join in on the fun.

Frank­lin and Mad­dox also preached to the over­flow crowd of roughly 2,000 people on the “ABCs of bul­ly­ing pre­ven­tion,” which are “ac­tion, bravery and com­pas­sion,” the lat­ter of which has been beau­ti­fully dis­played by Grow’s team­mates, who, in­stead of fo­cus­ing on what made him dif­fer­ent, wel­comed in with open arms a young man who was ex­actly like them, someone with a pas­sion for life and the game of bas­ket­ball. When a Ben­s­alem stu­dent from the crowd con­ver­ted a trick shot be­fore one of the school’s bas­ket­ball play­ers was able to do the same, Grow, the man of the hour, par­ti­cip­ated in the “pun­ish­ment” the same way as every­one else did: run­ning an up-and-back from baseline to baseline.

“You are na­tion­al lead­ers now,” Frank­lin told the crowd. “I’ve been all over the world, but I’ve yet to see an amaz­ing act of kind­ness the way this school did for my buddy ‘KG3’ (Grow’s nick­name, which he wore proudly on the back of his cus­tom­ized Globe­trot­ters jer­sey). How amaz­ing it is for him and the team and the coach and this school to make noise for yourselves. You’ve al­lowed KG to achieve his goals and dreams, and by do­ing that you’ve put this school in the na­tion­al spot­light. This young man is show­ing that dreams really do come true.”

Be­fore the as­sembly, Grow was di­li­gently prac­ti­cing his drib­bling skills in a hall­way ad­ja­cent to the gym­nas­i­um. When he met with Mad­dox and Frank­lin for a pre-as­sembly routine re­hears­al, Frank­lin gushed to the large gath­er­ing of print and tele­vi­sion me­dia mem­bers, “Is he per­fect or what?”

Mad­dox, who knows full well how hard it can be to fit in as a wo­man in a pre­dom­in­antly male sport, was vis­ibly moved by the over­whelm­ing out­pour­ing of sup­port for Grow.

“It’s hard to be dif­fer­ent,” she said. “The way they have em­braced him has touched our hearts.”

Grow’s par­ents, Earl and Dorothy, were al­ways close by with per­man­ent smiles pas­ted on their faces, their ela­tion over the com­munity’s sup­port of their little boy palp­able. When Frank­lin in­tro­duced Grow, the en­er­get­ic young­ster ran to join the Globe­trot­ters at mid­court while the crowd roared. Mad­dox used her back­side to bump a pass to Frank­lin, who spun the tri-colored bas­ket­ball around his back and on his in­dex fin­ger, all while a trans­fixed Grow kept his eyes on the rock, like an anxious puppy wait­ing for a treat.

When Frank­lin softly el­bowed the ball in­to Grow’s mitts, the crowd cheered. Then, when KG3 un­leashed his own ball-hand­ling skills and trick-drib­bling man­euvers, they cheered even louder.

When the as­sembly was over (Grow swished the only at­tempt he took, a foul-line jump­er that he drained with ease), he signed auto­graphs and took pic­tures with ad­or­ing fans. After all, it’s not all that of­ten that a class­mate moon­lights as a dual mem­ber of both the Six­ers and Globe­trot­ters, so the de­sire for keep­sakes was through the roof. (A few days later, on Sunday, Grow joined the Globe­trot­ters on the court at the Wells Fargo Cen­ter, the same place he had suited up as a Six­er against the Clev­e­land Cava­liers last month.)

Kev­in doesn’t say all that much, but that’s just fine. He doesn’t have to. His en­dur­ing pas­sion for life in the face of ad­versity should serve as a beacon of hope for any kid who has ever felt dif­fer­ent, lost or con­fused in those vul­ner­able, some­times un­for­giv­ing teen­age years. The ac­tions of Grow’s team­mates, whom Frank­lin called “The Ben­s­alem Dream Team,” spoke louder than any words ever could.

And des­pite all the me­dia at­ten­tion, Kev­in is still the same Kev­in he’s al­ways been, the same young man those close to him have al­ways ad­ored so much. It hasn’t changed him or his out­look on life, which al­ways came with a smile and a hug even be­fore the Six­ers and Globe­trot­ters came call­ing.

But he has changed all of those who have been lucky enough to wit­ness his story. It’s safe to say every­body in the gym­nas­i­um that day left in­spired and up­lif­ted, hop­ing to bottle up Kev­in’s un­break­able spir­it to take part of him home with them to keep on a shelf for when they need it most.

Handles Frank­lin sure will, no mat­ter where in the world the Har­lem Globe­trot­ters take him next.

“If I’m go­ing to tell you any­thing real, it’s this: be­lieve in yourselves, and be­lieve in your dreams,” he said. “TNT, she plays every single night against pro­fes­sion­al males. She’s a trib­ute to the fact that you can do any­thing you put your mind to, no mat­ter what. I heard about the Har­lem Globe­trot­ters when I was 6 years old on a Scooby Doo car­toon. I said that’s what I want to do with my life. I would dribble the ball every­where, and people would say it’s im­possible. Now, I travel around the world, drib­bling a bas­ket­ball for a liv­ing.

“Be­lieve in your­self. Be­lieve in your dreams.” ••

You can reach at emorrone@bsmphilly.com.

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