Niyear Perez couldn’t stop smiling. Not only was John Wall’s name gracing the back of the 13-year-old’s brand-new Wizards jersey, his NBA idol was literally at his back, signing that jersey and chatting with the young visitor as part of the Make-a-Wish Mid-Atlantic event before Sunday’s game against the Orlando Magic at Verizon Center.
Niyear had a chronic kidney disease diagnosed in October 2015 and spent the following two months in the intensive care unit at Connecticut Children’s Medical Center in Hartford. He has been in and out of the hospital since then and currently is on a list to receive a renal transplant. While he waits for a new kidney, he endures three-hour dialysis sessions three times per week.
But as Niyear scampered through the player tunnel during Sunday’s starting-lineup introductions, Wizards fans simply saw a normal-looking kid with an extraordinary opportunity.
“He’s going to do anything he has to to be out there with them,” said his grandmother, Virginia Robinson.
“It’s great to put a smile on his face. I hope he enjoyed the game. It was probably a lot more intense than he probably wanted to see,” Wall said postgame. “I hope his wish came true today.”
Niyear found out about his big day last Sunday, when Make-a-Wish volunteers approached the front door of his family’s home in Danbury, Conn.
“He ran upstairs,” Robinson recalled. “I was like, ‘Nah, you’ve got to open the door for them.’ ”
Niyear received his dialysis treatment unusually early Friday so that he could fly into D.C. along with his grandmother, two uncles and an aunt that afternoon. An hour before Sunday’s game, Niyear showcased his smooth left-handed stroke while shooting NBA-range three-pointers on the Wizards’ practice court. He then was handed a Wall jersey by a Wizards staffer before joining the team for its pregame shootaround in front of early-arriving fans. Afterward, he was whisked to a podium for a faux postgame news conference.
Once there, the taciturn seventh-grader offered more entertaining thoughts than your average NBA player leaning into a microphone.
On why Wall is his favorite player:
“I think he’s better than every other point guard,” Niyear said. “The point guard on the Warriors can only shoot. He can’t do nothing else.”
On what it was like to be on the court with Wall as he hoisted jumpers during the pregame shootaround:
“I wanted to throw him an alley but …”
On 6-foot-11 center Marcin Gortat:
“He looks scary.”
Until his diagnosis, Niyear was a lockdown defender who played point guard for his Connecticut Select AAU team and center for his neighborhood rec squad. But he struggled to breathe after Robinson picked him up from school early one day, and his primary care doctor recommended Robinson take him to the emergency room.
Niyear’s blood pressure was so high that it caused a seizure. Both his kidneys were removed in January to relieve the hypertension.
Niyear sits at the top of a kidney transplant list, but he’s still waiting for a match.
“They’ve worked a couple people up to see if they’re a match for him, so we’re keeping our fingers crossed and praying a lot,” Robinson said.
But on Sunday, Niyear wasn’t thinking about any of that stuff. He was too busy soaking in the Wizards’ come-from-behind 115-114 win from Zach Leonsis’s court-side seat. More than that, he was trying to wrap his head around meeting Wall.
“He said once he gets his kidney, he’s going to play ball just like him,” Robinson said.