Lacey Holsworth, an 8-year-old girl with cancer who had a heartwarming bond with Michigan State basketball star Adreian Payne, died Tuesday.
“Princess Lacey has achieved the ultimate victory,” reads a post from her official Twitter account. “She now dances among angels.”
Her father, Matt Holsworth, said Lacey died late Tuesday at their St. Johns, Mich., home “with her mommy and daddy holding her in their arms.”
Lacey met Payne after being diagnosed with neuroblastoma — a fetal-nerve cell cancer — and during a hospital stay two years ago, at which point the two became close and part of each other’s lives. She wore a blond wig because chemotherapy caused her to lose her hair.
The 6-foot-10 Payne carried her around the court on senior night at Michigan State. Lacey even helped the Spartans cut down the nets after they won the Big Ten tournament, and she received a championship hat with the rest of the team.
The photos and videos of them together would be seen over and over again as their story captured a nation.
“She loved unconditionally and without hesitation,” Matt Holsworth said.
Payne issued a statement through Michigan State that read, “Words can’t express how much I already miss Lacey. She is my sister, and will always be a part of my life. She taught me how to fight through everything with a smile on my face even when things were going wrong. I’m a better man because of her. …
“She said she first liked me because of my smile, but it’s her smile that made America fall in love with her. … I know she’s smiling and dancing in heaven right now. My princess is now an angel.”
Lacey was in Dallas at the Final Four with Payne just last week, and watched him finish third in the slam dunk contest.
Michigan State coach Tom Izzo and the entire team also connected with Lacey.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the entire Holsworth family today,” Izzo said in a statement. “Princess Lacey has taught us all an incredible lesson about love, strength and toughness. We can all learn from her on how to handle adversity with class and dignity.
“She has become an inspiration to our team, our families, our university, and most recently our entire nation. At just eight years old, she has given us all a lifetime of memories. We are all saddened today, but we are all better people for having known Lacey. Her smile and passion for life will live in the hearts of everyone she has touched across our country.”
ESPN analyst Dick Vitale said he plans to raise $250,000 for cancer-related causes in Lacey’s memory, according to the Detroit Free Press.
“This rips my heart out, man,” the former Detroit Pistons and University of Detroit coach said. “I’m gonna get that money if I have to give it myself. …
“Cancer sucks. … This should not be happening to kids like Lacey — she had a smile that was worth a million dollars. I’ll never forget her.”
Another ESPN analyst, Jay Bilas, tweeted, “RIP Lacey Holsworth. A beautiful soul, whose strength and courage touched and inspired us all. Heartbreaking.”
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