Aaron Miller stood on the sidelines at TD Garden on Tuesday night as Cleveland Cavaliers star LeBron James walked over, shook his hand and rubbed his head, and he reacted as any high school student might.
“I just said, ‘Oh, my God,’ ’’Aaron said by telephone Wednesday. “I can’t believe he’s doing this right now. I can’t believe he’s doing this.’”
Aaron, 16, reached out his left arm, his good arm, and briefly placed it on James’s shoulder before James turned to continue the game against the Celtics. But while James was still within earshot, Miller gathered himself to say one last thing.
“Look at my shoes!”
The shoes were made by Nike, which recently agreed to a lifetime contract with James. But these Nikes, which essentially open at the heel and can be fastened with a strap, were made to make life easier for someone like Aaron.
He suffered a severe stroke at birth that caused a rare form of cerebral palsy called spastic hemiplegia. Most of his right side was paralyzed, vision in his right eye was blurred, his brain function was limited, and he was unable to walk.
“We were told that he’s basically going to be a paraplegic and won’t be able to have a normal life,” his father, Scott Miller, said. “But right from the beginning we totally said, ‘That’s not gonna happen.’ ”
The family moved from Connecticut to Boston when Aaron was an infant for easier access to Boston Children’s Hospital. Aaron underwent tendon transfer surgeries and completed numerous physical therapy sessions to improve function on his right side.
Despite being unable to walk, he developed a love for basketball. He would lie on his back and throw a ball through a hoop that was attached to his dresser, and he kept pushing, kept trying. When he was 4½ years old, he took his first steps, and then his confidence swelled.
He learned to play golf at 5 — swinging a club with his left arm only — and is now capable of driving the ball 200 yards as a member of Newton North’s junior varsity team. He also joined the school’s pilot basketball team for students with physical and mental disabilities.
The Millers are season ticket-holders to Celtics games and always have admired the “Heroes Among Us” honorees who are introduced at each game, selected for the differences they’ve made in their communities. Scott Miller shared his son’s story with the Celtics, and Aaron was chosen to be recognized at Tuesday’s game.
When Aaron was introduced to the crowd during a timeout, James was among the many to be touched by his story.
“I was actually in the game and Coach was drawing up a play,” James said. “But I looked up at the Jumbotron and seen what he had been through and where he is now, and I think the doctor said he would never walk again or talk again or something like that. I looked up there and I just . . . this game is so much more than basketball. Also, I seen he had my shoes on. I designed those shoes for kids with conditions where they’re not able to tie their own shoestrings, and he had a pair on.”
When the game ended, Scott Miller said, a cameraman said James wanted to meet the Millers. James then took off his Nikes and handed them to Aaron.
“He congratulated me and said like, ‘You deserve it. You’re an inspiration to all of us,’ ” Aaron said.
“Aaron almost passed out, of course,” Scott Miller said. “And there’s LeBron doing his interview standing around in his socks. The whole thing has left Aaron just in awe, but he really appreciates it. He’s not a kid that likes the spotlight or anything. He’s just happy in his own quiet world, and this really kind of made him shine.”
James’s sneakers were not the only keepsakes Aaron received. After the game, Celtics forward David Lee ran over and gave him his jersey.
“Dad, it’s wet!” Aaron told his father.
“Of course it is,” Scott said. “He wore it in the game.”
Scott Miller hoped his son’s story might inspire other families trying to overcome their own struggles, and the impact on Tuesday was sudden. During the game, a father brought his son, who has cerebral palsy, down to the floor to meet Aaron. The boy told him how he wanted to play for a team, too, but had been unsuccessful. Aaron told the boy he can do anything, then gave him a high-five.
“We must have spoken to eight people there who said their son had this or their daughter has that, and just how Aaron was an inspiration,” Scott Miller said.
“Don’t give up,” Aaron said. “You should never give up and you should have a positive attitude.”
During the ride home, Aaron kept telling his parents he could not believe he had met James. He kept asking them if this were real.
At Newton North on Wednesday, classmates swarmed him in the hallways. They congratulated him and said they had seen him on television and asked if he was really the boy who’d met LeBron James.Adam Himmelsbach can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @adamhimmelsbach.