Why He’s Interesting: After being traded from Los Angeles to Cleveland in 2018, Nance Jr. followed in his father’s footsteps by wearing his dad’s retired No. 22 jersey. Yet the 6-foot-9 forward made a name for himself by picking up a four-year contract extension in October. Off the court, the 26-year-old, who was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease at 16, raises awareness through his Athletes vs. Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation by discussing his own harrowing experience with kids who also suffer from the disease.
Building Blocks: The 2018-19 Cavs find themselves in rebuild mode — a familiar place for Nance, whose rookie season with the Los Angeles Lakers aligned with Kobe Bryant’s final year and retirement. “It’s not easy by any stretch of the imagination. We’re having a hard time coming by wins. But seeing the growth of our younger guys — Collin [Sexton], Cedi [Osman] ... is what you hold on to if you’re a Cavs fan right now.”
King vs. Mamba: Two years after supporting Bryant’s finale, Nance found himself riding shotgun in a LeBron James-led NBA Finals run. “Kobe was on his farewell tour, so he was really enjoying it, taking in the crowd and the atmosphere. Whereas, LeBron was on win mode. First one in, last one out. Putting up 50 in Finals games. It was a show every night.”
Country Time: While attending the University of Wyoming, Nance found himself a “country girl” — Hailey, who he married this year. “She grew up on a beet farm in the heart of Wyoming, shooting shotguns and loving America. She doesn’t have a neighbor for a mile and a half, and the closest restaurant is two-and-a-half hours away. My mom and sister are big The Office fans, so they get her, like, beet harvest queen T-shirts. Everything is beets.”
Father’s Footsteps: Nance Sr. never pushed his son into basketball. “I don’t feel like I’m in his shadow. He’s done a terrific job making sure I’m my own person. Play soccer if you want to, play basketball, run track, whatever you want. I found my own way. Plus, I never heard anybody say a bad thing about my dad, so I have no issue following in those footsteps, because they are great footsteps to follow in.”
Kindred Spirit: After his Crohn’s diagnosis, the high school freshman wondered if he could still play basketball or even be a normal kid. Then he learned that Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback David Garrard also battled Crohn’s. “He was my North Star. He made me think it was possible to play at the highest level. I played with Kobe at his last game. I saw the 60 points. I played with LeBron in the Finals, but the coolest thing by far was getting to have dinner with David Garrard.”
Role Model: In addition to raising $100,000 for Crohn’s and colitis research in 2017 with his Athletes vs. Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation, the philanthropist meets with groups of about 20 kids suffering from the diseases before away games in cities such as Los Angeles, Detroit and Brooklyn. At home, he runs a similar program with the Cleveland Clinic dubbed Larry’s Leaders. “If it’s basketball, soccer, football, dancing, singing — whatever you want to do — this disease cannot keep you from it. I’m living proof of that.”
What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?
Give 100 percent of everything you do so you have no regrets.
What’s your most treasured item?
I have a signed jersey from Kobe Bryant on his last game, so that to me is the coolest thing ever.
What’s the most adventurous thing you’ve ever done?
I went snorkeling this summer in Hawaii and I don’t think I’d do it again. I don’t like the open ocean. It scares me.