Photo by Nick Koza for Call & Post
Crohn’s disease can’t stop the emergence of the Akron kid
LeBron James had just turned in his sixth playoff 40 plus point performance to pass Hall of Famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for the all-time lead with 2,357 made field goals in the Cavaliers 101-102 Game 4 Eastern Conference Finals on May 21 at Quicken Loans Arena. The win tied the best of seven series at two games apiece.
However there were more questions asked about Larry Nance Jr. 10 minute, 7-point performance than the other native son of Akron Ohio.
James’ remarkable performances have become so ordinary for him that his grandeur had become normalized, by his own lofty standards.
Thus James’ 44 points was not big deal in a game the Cavaliers had to have. James scored 42 points in a game 2 defeat at Boston.
The Cavs lost those first two games because they got no bench production and their energy or lack thereof was well below par.
Hence, that is why the Game 4 performance of the third year pro and Akron native Nance Jr. was so important.
A first round pick out of Wyoming, Nance was drafted by the Lakers with the 27th pick in the first round of the 2015 NBA draft by Mitch Kupchak.
That is the same draft that produced another Northeast Ohio native Terry Rozier of Louisville who went No. 16 to the Boston Celtics.
The Nance Jr. pick raised eyebrows because he was a four year college player and played for a rather obscure mid major and lacked all of fan fare that accompanied many of the other first rounder’s.
Turned out that Kupchak had found a gem. A long rangy 6’9 wing that could absolutely jump out of the gym. A rim protector and a high lying dunk machine.
As it would turn out Nance Jr. would be the last legacy of the Kupchak Lakers era, but he was a popular player among Lakers fans.
The Cavaliers snagged Nance Jr. in a February trade deadline deal along with guard Jordan Clarkson from the Lakers, returning the native son home to his roots and a team where his dad Larry Nance Sr. was a star and whose retired number 22 hangs from the rafters of Quicken Loans Arena.
Junior gained permission to wear it and in many ways his shot blocking and rebounding ability is similar to his father.
Cavs head coach Tyronn Lue had rarely went to his reserve players during the post season, saying that he relied on the players that he trusted.
Especially with the stakes so high, there is little margin for error. Highly touted Clarkson and Rodney Hood also arriving via midseason trade sparingly touch the flow, if at all.
On Monday May 21st, Nance Jr. brief and impactful 10-minute performance earned the trust of Lue.
“Yes, I trust him and he will see more playing time,” Lue said during the Game 4 post game press conference.
“Oh, its great. Coming here midseason all coach is looking for is guys to play hard and play defense, so the fact that he said that shows that I’m doing the right things and it means a lot,” Nance Jr. told the Call & Post.
Earning the trust of your head coach on the biggest stage is a big deal, but it’s not close to being the most difficult challenge that Nance. Jr. is facing.
Nance Jr. was diagnosed with Crohn's disease (IBD) as a young teenager growing up in Cleveland, Ohio.
Crohn’s is a chronic inflammatory disease of the intestines, especially the colon and ileum, associated with ulcers and fistulae.
“I take Remicade every six weeks, but for me it’s all about diet and making sure I’m on the right track with everything I’m eating and putting the right things in my body. It’s something I have to stay on top of, but I am very thankful I am able to play at the level that I am.”
Nance Jr. has chosen to promote his condition through a T-Shirt with Athletes Brand that he has designed to benefit Athletes vs. Crohn's & Colitis Foundation, which he co-founded in January 2017. His goal is to inspire and advocate for young aspiring athletes suffering from IBD and create youth mentor network between athletes and youth.
For the duration of the NBA Playoffs, Larry aims to raise as much awareness for this cause as possible in hopes help Athletes vs. Crohn's & Colitis educate and inspire others on this tough and often overlooked disease.
He relishes the opportunity to showcase his basketball abilities on the biggest stage in the world during the Eastern Conference Finals.
Ask what the big difference is in playing on this stage than when he was with the Lakers, Nance Jr. added.
“Every possession matters, whether it’s an out of bounds play or a pick and roll, every single action and every possession matters because it can change not only the game, but the entire series.”
For Larry Nance Jr. he can possibly change more than an entire series, especially since he has earned the trust of his head coach and teammates, he can be the difference in a championship run.