Blake Griffin honors late friend after win

Updated: February 20, 2011, 2:47 AM ET
By Ramona Shelburne | ESPNLosAngeles.com

LOS ANGELES -- Blake Griffin plans to give the trophy he won in Saturday night's Sprite Slam Dunk challenge to the family of his high school teammate Wilson Holloway, who died Wednesday after a long battle with Hodgkins lymphoma.

"I wanted to do this, not just for myself but for him," Griffin said. "I think I'm actually going to give this [trophy] to his family. That's why I really wanted to win."

Griffin learned of Holloway's death Wednesday night after the Clippers defeated the Minnesota Timberwolves. He sobbed in the locker room after getting that phone call and has since dedicated his performance this weekend to his childhood friend.

Griffin said he planned to fly straight to Oklahoma City after Sunday's All-Star Game and to attend Holloway's funeral on Monday.

"It's kind of a good thing that I've been so busy," he said. "It doesn't leave you time to think about it."

Almost three years ago, Holloway received a diagnosis of Hodgkin's lymphoma, but he didn't let it keep him from playing college football at Tulsa and, those who knew him say, it didn't affect his positive outlook on life. They chose to remember that smile on Thursday, the day after he died in Oklahoma City at age 22.

"He definitely faced some adversity, but yet he always lived life the way that he chose, which was to be upbeat, be positive," said University of Central Oklahoma football coach Tracy Holland, who was Holloway's prep coach at Oklahoma Christian School in Edmond.

"He was a fierce and loyal friend."

[+] EnlargeBlake Griffin
AP Photo/Mark J. TerrillBlake Griffin holds the trophy after winning the slam dunk contest Saturday night.

After an honor-filled high school career, Holloway, a 6-foot-6, 275-pound offensive tackle from Edmond, signed with Tulsa in 2007. He redshirted that fall and was running during Tulsa's offseason workouts the following February when he noticed he was struggling and short of breath.

Herb Hand, then Tulsa's co-offensive coordinator, suggested that Holloway seek medical attention, and on March 13, Holloway learned he had a softball-sized tumor in his chest.

Holloway continued working out with the Golden Hurricane, even as he endured chemotherapy treatments. By August, he was declared cancer-free and played in six games before the cancer returned that October. Another round of chemotherapy caused Holloway to lose his hair, and his fellow linemen and quarterback David Johnson shaved their heads in solidarity.

Holloway remained a member of Tulsa's football team throughout his battle with cancer. He was listed in the 2009 and 2010 media guides, although he didn't play in either season. The university held a moment of silence for Holloway on Wednesday night before a home basketball game against East Carolina.

"In his four years at the University of Tulsa, Wilson's smile was contagious to those who ever met him," Tulsa athletic director Bubba Cunningham said. "He fought the disease with a tireless and enthusiastic spirit. We'll never forget Wilson's own words -- 'I don't take things for granted any more. There are days I wish I could go out and do the drills everyone hates to do.' Wilson Holloway has touched all of our hearts with his passion for living."

Griffin had been a big supporter of Holloway's battle. When Holloway was nominated for the 2010 Rare Disease Champion award a year ago, Griffin tweeted to his 50,000-plus followers: "My boy @Wilson Holloway is up 4 The Rare Disease Champion Award and he needs ur vote."

"He was just one of those guys that was so positive," Griffin said. "I never heard him complain once."

Ramona Shelburne is a writer and columnist for ESPNLosAngeles.com. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

ALSO SEE