Holloway Inspires Average Joes, NBA Players Alike

Hal Sundt, Staff Writer

On Feb. 16, Wilson Holloway passed away at the age of 22 after battling Hodgkin’s lymphoma for three years.

Standing at six feet six inches and weighing 275 pounds, Holloway earned a scholarship to the University of Tulsa out of high school to play offensive tackle for the Golden Hurricane football team. After red-shirting during his first year, he was preparing for a breakout season, but the off-season workouts started to wear on him. When he finally went to the hospital, the doctor said he had a tumor the size of a softball inside of his chest.

Holloway underwent chemotherapy while he trained for the upcoming season. By August, the cancer went into remission. Six games later, however, it returned. This time the chemotherapy made Holloway lose his hair. Some of his teammates shaved their heads in his honor.

Wilson remained with the football team, although he did not appear in another game. He received the 2008 FedEx Orange Bowl/Football Writers Association of America Courage Award as well as the Wilma Rudolph Student-Athlete Achievement Award during his time at Tulsa.

Fast forward to last week.

After the Los Angeles Clippers defeated the Minnesota Timberwolves 98–90, All-Star forward Blake Griffin received a phone call in the locker room about the death of his former high school teammate and close friend. After he hung up the phone, he put his head in his hands as tears streamed down his face. He didn’t care about the 29 points he had just scored, all of his highlight-reel dunks, his place at the front of the pack of the Rookie of the Year race or the All-Star game that he was scheduled to play in four days.

But he did care about the 2011 NBA All-Star Dunk Contest.

Television audiences around the world tuned in to see what this Griffin kid and his 137 regular season dunks could do. There were a number of formidable dunkers: forward DeMar DeRozan of the Toronto Raptors, Washington Wizards center JaVale McGee and Oklahoma City Thunder forward Serge Ibaka. But Griffin outlasted them all.

And in his victory speech, while he was on the top of the world, he dedicated the honor to his best friend, the late Wilson Holloway.

Ever since Griffin jumped over a car to win that dunk contest, people have been wondering if he deserved to win. DeRozan criticized all of the props in the contest. Some felt that Ibaka should have received a higher score for dunking behind the free-throw line. And perhaps McGee’s ability to dunk on two different baskets at the same time is the single most ridiculous thing ever attempted in a dunk contest.

Twitter accounts and Facebook statuses exploded ranking Griffin’s greatness and lamenting all of the snubbed scores. Throughout the weekend, ESPN.com, NBA.com and the rest of Internet was filled with informed, as well as misinformed, debate that spilled over into last Monday afternoon.

But while the websites were raging on that Monday, Blake Griffin served as a pallbearer at the funeral of his best friend. While I wasn’t there, I’m sure Griffin thought of how Wilson Holloway beat cancer once, and gave it one hell of a fight the second time around. I bet at that moment he realized that beating the rest of the NBA in a dunk contest didn’t seem that hard after all.

And even if it was, with the memory and the strength of his best friend in his heart, there was no way that Blake Griffin was going to lose.