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Courtside Seat For Basketball Games Helps Ohio Woman Fight Cancer

May 18, 2016
Originally published on May 18, 2016 7:04 am
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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

What does it mean to be a sports fan - not just the part about wearing team jerseys or keeping up with wins and losses - emotionally? NPR's Uri Berliner looked for an answer when he followed a minor league basketball team for a season.

URI BERLINER, BYLINE: The team is the Canton Charge. They play in the NBA Development League in a scrappy Rust Belt city.

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: Make some noise.

BERLINER: Sometimes the arena sells out. But on this snowy, February night, the building is less than half-full, a crowd of 1,694.

BRENDA NEWPORT: You aren't doing it in my corner, Patty.

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: Make some noise.

(CHEERING)

NEWPORT: No shot over here. Might as well leave now.

BERLINER: That voice belongs to Brenda Newport. Newport has season tickets - floor seats, two of them, right under the basket.

BERLINER: She takes one. One of her 14 children takes the other. Newport is loud.

NEWPORT: (Chanting) Let's go, Charge. Let's go, Charge. Let's go, Charge.

BERLINER: And she's demonstrative. Newport has this nickname, the Dancer, for the routines she does during games.

NEWPORT: I almost feel guilty if I come and I can't jump up and dance as much as I normally do. But it's a struggle. I walk with a cane. Chemo destroys your body a little bit more than you'd like to admit.

BERLINER: Five years ago, Newport was living with breast cancer. She wanted to make the most of her time.

NEWPORT: My husband and I were told I had between three and six months. And my bucket list was always to have floor seats at the Cavs, which wasn't really going to happen without a lot of money.

BERLINER: That's the Cleveland Cavaliers, LeBron James's team. Instead, Newport and her husband got floor seats to the Charge.

NEWPORT: In his mind, as long as I have floor seats and I have excitement coming to the games - that I'm still going to be around. And that was five years ago.

BERLINER: Pretty quickly, Newport discovered there are benefits to rooting for a minor league team.

NEWPORT: The players are so personable. They kind of high-five you, and they talk to you. And you don't always get that when you go to an NBA game.

BERLINER: Antoine Agudio is one of those players. He's known as Mr. Charge. That's his nickname. He's played for the team all of those five years.

ANTOINE AGUDIO: When she comes to the games, she - it brings her life - watching us play, you know, the competition, you know, the game for herself, and she loves it. And, like, it moves her.

BERLINER: Of course, cheering for the home team is just one aspect of being a fan. There's also trying to annoy the opposition. That starts as soon as Newport gets her food and heads to her seats.

NEWPORT: I walk back. And I'll start telling the other team - you know you're going to lose tonight, right? So psychologically, I'm already working on them.

BERLINER: And after halftime, when the opposing team is just a few feet away...

NEWPORT: So I'll say this is my house. This is my corner. You won't make any shots in this corner. And they get so rattled. It's fun to watch.

BERLINER: Until now, so much of her life has been about birth. She's the mother of 14. And then there are the 2,900 babies she's delivered working as a midwife - 2,900. On the other side of all those births, she's got cancer again.

NEWPORT: Cancer has kind of come back. So some nights, I haven't been quite as well. I missed last Tuesday. But generally speaking, as long as I can walk, I'm here.

BERLINER: On this night, Newport gets what she came for, a win by the home team. For her, the games are more than just an enjoyable distraction.

NEWPORT: They're like life to me. I look forward to every game. And I am really disappointed if I can't go. And I go through withdrawals when a season's over.

BERLINER: Uri Berliner, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.