Chris Paul flies down Brad Rhoades
More than 90 minutes before the third game of the Hornets' first-round playoff series against the Lakers Friday night, there was the familiar No. 3 Hornets jersey, dribbling back and forth across the floor.
Except it wasn't Paul bouncing the basketball. It was a 14-year-old high school freshman from New Hampshire who literally found himself filling Paul's shoes after following in Paul's footsteps with a basketball tribute to a deceased loved one.
Brad Rhoades' mother died in a snowmobile accident on Feb. 27. Kristen Rhoades was 46 years old. Two days later, Brad's basketball team at Pembroke Academy had a game. As he rode in a car to the gym, Rhoades was undecided about what he would do next.
"I wasn't sure if I wanted to play yet because I was so tired," Rhoades said. "I told my Uncle John, 'I'm playing this game. I'm scoring 46 points.'"
One for every year his mother lived.
By halftime, he had 27 points.
"Then he went in the locker room and told his teammates what he was trying to do," said Rhoades' father, Frank. "Then his sister got involved. She talked to him and gave him encouragement, said 'Mom's here. You can do this.' You should do it for her. She'd want you to do it.
"He did it with about four minutes left in the third quarter."
The story was reported in the New Hampshire Union Leader and picked up momentum on news outlets around the country. When Paul got word, it hit home.
When Paul was in high school in West Forsyth, N.C., his grandfather died at age 61 the day after Paul signed his letter of intent to play at Wake Forest. In his next game Paul scored 61 points.
That common bond was enough for Paul to arrange for Brad and his father to fly down to New Orleans for Game 3 Friday.
"I got home on Thursday night and I said, 'I hate to break bad news, but you're not going to be going to school on Friday,'" Frank Rhoades said. "'We've got to go to New Orleans and see Chris Paul play against the Lakers.'"
"I, like, started crying with happiness," Brad Rhoades said. "I was so happy."
Rhoades was standing on the corner of the court in New Orleans Arena, wearing a pink shirt that read "RIP Kristen Rhoades, 1964-2011." He also wore a black hat that was embroidered with, "I love you Mom."
After Paul finished his pregame workout he stopped and chatted with Rhoades and his dad, and signed a pair of his Jordan Brand shoes. Later, the Hornets got Rhoades a Paul jersey and a pair of Paul's shoes in his size and let him dribble on the court while the pros warmed up at either basket.
"We can't thank them enough for what they've done for us and my family here today," Frank Rhoades said. "It's awesome."
J.A. Adande is a senior writer for ESPN.com.