LAS VEGAS — Of all the guys wearing Utah Jazz jerseys inside Cox Pavilion on Sunday, one has received more positive publicity and supportive fanfare than all of the others combined.
Deservedly so, too.
And this is not a reference to Rudy Gobert, Rodney Hood, Alec Burks or Raul Neto, all of whom were present to cheer on teammates during this NBA summer league game.
That honorable distinction belongs to the athlete who's No. 1 — on his jersey and in many hearts.
Legendary Jazz guard JP Gibson.
In October 2014, JP won over millions of fans after he signed a one-day contract with the Jazz while engaged in a courageous battle with acute lymphoblastic leukemia.
JP was the highlight of the Jazz’s public intrasquad scrimmage before that season started. In a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, the 5-year-old used a purple crayon to sign his deal, held his own press conference, adorably participated in warm-up stretches and then capped the night with a Rudy Gobert-assisted slam dunk to the delight of fans in attendance and to those who later viewed highlights of the viral video on sports shows, newscasts, social media and during his ensuing guest appearance on "The Ellen Degeneres Show."
Five-year-old free agent guard JP Gibson scores while being held up by 7-1 Rudy Gobert with the Utah Jazz after signing a one-day contract with the Utah Jazz. | Tom Smart, Deseret News
JP’s dad, Josh Gibson, called the experience a “dream come true.”
“It was a special night,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said at the time.
Two-and-half years after his NBA career ceremoniously ended, the spunky blond boy is a success story off the court. This past May, the Gibson family celebrated his two-year anniversary of completing his aggressive cancer treatment.
"That's a big deal to us that we just hit two years off of chemo," his mom, Megan Gibson, said. "That means it probably won’t come back. We hope it doesn't."
JP acts as healthy as any other kid his age. The active youngster was displayed on the arena’s video screens showing off some of his impressive dance moves — he takes ballet, tap and jazz lessons — from in front of his courtside seat during Sunday's game.
The soon-to-be 8-year-old, who's been a hoops fan since he was 12 months old, is an active athlete. He plays football, soccer and basketball on Junior Jazz teams in Clearfield and Layton.
“He’s doing great,” Megan said. “Look at him. You’d never know he had cancer.”
"I’m feeling good," JP said.
His parents are grateful that he only has to visit the doctor once every four months to have his blood checked to make sure the cancer remains in remission. During treatment, he had check-ups on a weekly or monthly basis.
That, however, causes what his mom calls “scanxiety,” an ongoing nervousness over what might be found in infrequent blood draws after getting regular updates during his chemo days.
“It has slowed down quite a bit, which is good because it means he’s getting better,” Megan said. “It’s kind of scary for the mom and the dad to watch it go four months and wonder.”
The Gibsons have used the notoriety they gained thanks to their Jazz experience to help other kids. They’ve twice traveled to Washington, D.C., with JP to lobby Congress for pediatric cancer funding with the National Institutes of Health in the last two years.
“We’re pretty involved,” his dad, Josh, said.
While things are going well now, JP’s dad pointed out that his son has a higher probability of getting a secondary cancer because of his bout with leukemia. Other possible lasting effects can potentially include stunted growth, fertility issues, heart problems (he gets an annual EKG just in case) and a never-ending fear of relapse.
"On the outside, he looks like a perfectly healthy kid, and he hopefully is," Josh said. "But we still worry that things can happen, you know? That’s something he’s got to live with the rest of his life."
Something much more positive that will also last a lifetime?
Being a fan of Utah’s pro basketball team.
"Go Jazz," his mom said.
“Yeah,” JP added. “Go Jazz.”
“He’s usually the loudest one in the arena,” Megan said. “He was cheering against the other team (the Los Angeles Clippers) telling them to miss all their shots. He’s usually pretty loud. He’s pretty vocal.”
Unfortunately for JP and the Jazz, Utah missed a lot more shots in this 86-67 blowout loss. Lottery pick Donovan Mitchell took the game off after playing so well in his first four games, and the Jazz only hit 35.7 percent of their shots while falling to 0-2 in Las Vegas.
He'll be in town for the team's game against Memphis on Tuesday, so hopefully that one will turn out better for the young fan and his squad.
JP did get to watch his favorite summer league Jazz player — forward JP Tokoto — score five points with three rebounds in 20 minutes.
And, yes, Tokoto is his favorite summer Jazz player because of their shared first name.
“Yeah,” the younger JP admitted.
The Junior Jazz star giggled when asked if the older JP was named after him.
Although he’s No. 1 now, JP once had a No. 20 jersey made for him because his favorite player was Gordon Hayward. Like many in Utah, he was heartbroken when the small forward decided to bolt for Boston in free agency.
“It was sad,” JP said. “He used to be my favorite player on the Jazz.”
One player’s loss is another player’s gain.
His new favorite player?
"Rodney Hood," he said. "Rodney was my second. I just changed Rodney to my first."
There's another reason why he's taken a liking to Hood.
“Because," JP explained, "when I was a ball boy I sat by him and we had races back to our seats.”
Did he beat Hood?
“Sometimes,” JP said, grinning, and then inferring that it wasn’t necessarily a fair competition. “Yeah, he cheated sometimes. He pushed me back, picked me up and set me down behind him.”
JP and his family have been annual guests at this Las Vegas basketball event as guests of NBA summer league boss Warren LeGarie (who happens to be the agent of Snyder and Jazz GM Dennis Lindsey). The Jazz often invite him to attend their regular season games, too.
“We love it,” Josh said of this summer tradition. “It’s great to plan a family vacation that’s centered around basketball. That’s every dad’s dream, right? It’s nice to have an excuse that, ‘Oh, JP wants to go.’ You can’t say no to the kid that had cancer.”