Brody Stephens spent the last few months of his life receiving countless gifts from his heroes.
Shoes and shirts from Stephen Curry, his favorite basketball player. Gear from Cleveland Cavaliers guard Kyrie Irving. A signed football from Indianapolis Colts coach Chuck Pagano. He was featured on “SportsCenter” and recognized at an Indiana Pacers game. Brody got a trip to Golden State to see the Warriors play, serving as a ball boy for a night and joining coach Steve Kerr at the postgame news conference.
But make no mistake, Brody gave so much more than he ever received. That will forever be the legacy of the 8-year-old New Palestine, Ind., boy who battled cancer not once, but twice. He died Saturday due to a viral complication from a long battle with leukemia, his father, Jason, confirmed Sunday morning. The family is planning a celebration of life ceremony for Brody.
“It was a viral complication, NOT leukemia!!” Jason Stephens said in a text Sunday. “That is important to (Brody’s mother) Celia and I as he will always be 2 wins and 0 losses against leukemia!!!”
As a baby, Brody was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia. He fought it off, but the monster returned in a different form, acute lymphoblastic leukemia, in 2015. After two years spent in and out of the hospital, a bone marrow transplant and countless high-profile visitors showing their support for the boy’s fight, news of Brody’s passing made a nationwide impact.
“He was a very special kid that inspired everyone that knew him,” Jason Stephens said in a text Sunday.
A reflection of that was the explosion of messages of condolence on social media Saturday night and Sunday morning. Most were accompanied with the hashtag that first surfaced when Brody’s cancer battle became well known: #BrodyStrong. Late Saturday, the hashtag #BrodyStrong was trending on Twitter, and everyone was sharing stories of how Brody touched their lives.
From former Colts punter Pat McAfee: “(You’re one of) the most inspirational humans to ever walk on this earth.”
Kerr: “We love you Brody.”
There were messages from all across the New Palestine community, as well, where Brody grew up and was a star in the youth basketball league, playing with — and beating — kids older than him.
There were pictures of people wearing their orange and black BrodyStrong bracelets. There were pictures of BrodyStrong shirts.
IndyStar first wrote about Brody in July of last year. Bob Gavaghan, a friend of the Stephens family, operated an annual three-on-three basketball tournament and donated the $10,000 it raised to Brody so he could go to Disney World.
Brody underwent a bone marrow transplant last August. Jason Stephens told IndyStar he was “scared as hell” about the surgery on his son.
Brody, ever the optimist, just wanted to get back to playing basketball.
“He knows that ultimately for him to get better and get home and to play basketball next year, this is what we’ve got to do,” Jason Stephens said. “He sees it as the next step.”
Between chemotherapy treatments and the transplant, Brody’s care for others never wavered. He loved to build Legos. One day, he set up a lemonade stand outside his hospital room. He sold lemonade for nine hours and made $250. He used the money to buy Legos for other kids in the hospital.
Andrew Luck told IndyStar in December that he “was struck by how much vivacity and spirit (Brody) had in his interactions with me, with everybody. His personality was huge. You felt like you wanted to sit there and talk to him forever.”
“He’s an inspiration to everybody,” said Cathedral High School football standout Markese Stepp, who will wear No. 30, Brody’s favorite number, at Notre Dame. “Even for people who aren’t going through tough times, it reminds them when they face the toughest moments to keep pushing and fighting. (Brody’s) a fighter.”
Brody’s father tried to explain the connection Brody makes with his heroes, and why they come away so touched by him. He was left searching for words.
“Once you meet him … I don’t know what it is,” he said. “I can’t explain it. I don’t even try anymore.”
Less than a week before Brody died, his father posted a picture on Twitter of Kevin Durant wearing one of Brody’s bracelets. Pictures surfaced on Twitter of country music star Jason Aldean wearing a BrodyStrong bracelet during a concert Friday.
What Brody stood for — overflowing joy, unwavering kindness, unshakable strength — will live on in the lives he touched.