Adreian Payne Loses Young Friend to Cancer

Eight-year-old girl forged inspiring bond with Michigan State star.

Posted: 04/09/2014 02:33 PM EDT
Adreian Payne

Lacey Holsworth, the 8-year-old girl whose graceful fight with cancer inspired the Michigan State men’s basketball team, passed away today. Lacey bonded with Spartans star forward Adreian Payne two years ago and became a fixture at team’s games. The story of Michigan State dedicating games to the bubbly little girl quickly captured the nation's heart.

Lacey’s parents broke the sad news around 3 am, via her Instagram and Twitter accounts (@MissPrincessLacey and @AdorableLacey, respectively). They posted a photo with the caption, “Princess Lacey has achieved the ultimate victory. She now dances among angels.... The world is a better place because you were in it. Our hearts are broken. We love you Doll. Dance all night... Mommy and Daddy, Will, Mitchell, and Luke #LoveLikeLacey”

The St. Johns, Michigan-native suffered from fetal-nerve cell cancer known as neurobalstoma. She met Payne during a team hospital visit two years ago. They exchanged numbers and became fast friends.

Payne called Lacey "little sis" and she called him "Superman." Payne often played the role of an older sibling, visiting Lacey after chemotherapy treatments. In return, Lacey could routinely be seen cheering passionately for Payne from the stands of Michigan State’s Breslin Center. "[Lacey] gives me something other than basketball to do and think about,” said Payne in an interview with the Associated Press.

Lacey was there on Payne’s senior night and during his impressive showing at the college slam dunk contest in Texas last week. Many people across America were introduced to her after she cut down the nets to celebrate Michigan State winning the Big 10 tournament in March. Appearances on The Today Show and Good Morning America made her a social media star.

Her Twitter account currently has 32,200 followers. Sadly, her final post has over 11,000 retweets, while her Twitter bio reads, “I have a history of victory.” Lacey won her initial fight with cancer, but it returned last fall. Despite her health worsening last month she was still in attendance to cheer on her beloved Spartans as they made a run to the Elite Eight of the NCAA tournament.

Lacey’s story touched many in the college basketball community, including analyst Dick Vitale, who pledged today to raise $250,000 to fight cancer in her name at dickvitaleonline.com. “I think of @AdorabeLacey 's smile & how she inspired so many,” tweeted Vitale earlier.

Michigan State Head Coach Tom Izzo was also touched by Lacey’s brief life. "I'm supposed to be a guy who leads men, and now an 8-year-old has impacted my life like this,” said Izzo to USA Today. “The impact on all of us will be lasting, and that's especially true for Adreian."

Izzo said he talked to Payne this morning after learning of Lacey's passing. "Even though [Payne] knew this was inevitable, it's hard," said Izzo. "But he took it with the class and dignity that she taught him. I told him, 'Not everybody gets to touch somebody's life like you have. And sometimes other people impact your life, too.'"

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(Photo: Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

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