Nick Gilbert’s Not Only A Cool Kid, He’s An Inspiration Too

When I first saw him take the stage on Lottery Night rocking that bowtie I couldn’t help but smile, and when I first heard him offer that catch phrase I couldn’t help but laugh. As I watched him work his way around that room I couldn’t help but notice the genuine joy he did so with, and when he won that pick for Cleveland I just felt like it made sense. Dude’s that cool, and thousands of people like me were immediately drawn to Nick Gilbert when he was first introduced to the NBA community as a result. After reading more about his story today, however, I can’t help but think the guy they call “Gilly” is even more inspirational than he is cool. And he’s pretty damn cool.

Mary Schmitt Boyer sat down with Nick, as well as his parents, to talk about Nick’s battle against Neurofibromatosis and it is a tremendously moving piece, published over at The Plain Dealer on Monday.  For some background on Neurofibromatosis, known as NF, it is a nerve disorder that causes tumors to grow anywhere in the body at any time.  NF can be inherited, but it can be a spontaneous mutation as well which was the case for Nick.  He was diagnosed at fifteen months old, has had emergency surgery on his brain to remove a tumor already, along with a number of other surgeries and procedures, yet casually and confidently refers to himself as simply “a lucky guy”.  

Below is some of that article from The Plain Dealer:

Only one time has Nick Gilbert asked his dad why he’d been diagnosed with neurofibromatosis (NF), a nerve disorder that causes tumors to grow anywhere in the body at any time.

He was 10 and had just returned home from emergency brain surgery.

“I told him I didn’t know,” said Dan Gilbert, the owner of the Cavaliers. “I told him, ‘It was just the luck of the draw. You pulled the card.’

“He thought for a minute and said, ‘Well, I’m a pretty lucky guy. My dad owns an NBA team. There’s only 30 of those cards I could have pulled.’

“He’s that kind of person.”

Diagnosed at 15 months, Nick has suffered through that brain surgery, the loss of vision in his right eye, four long rounds of chemotherapy and countless hours in doctors’ offices and hospitals across the country.

He says he wouldn’t change a thing.

“I think I have got a great life,” Nick, 15, told The Plain Dealer in his first in-depth interview on the subject last week.

But things have settled back into a fairly predictable routine for the 10th grader at Groves High School. He thinks school is boring, but hopes to play in an intramural basketball league this year, having given up baseball several years ago. He likes to hang out with his many friends, playing sports or video games and watching sports.

He’s bummed that he won’t be able drive because of his vision problems, but thinks it’s pretty cool to have a driver instead. Similarly, he acknowledges the brain surgery was the worst thing he’s been through, but the upside was he got lots of attention and presents afterward and even got to visit the White House before another checkup in Washington, D.C.

That, in general, is how he approaches things. Asked what advice he’d give to other NF patients or their parents, he doesn’t hesitate.

“Look at the bright side of everything,” he said.

What’s not to like about that advice?


My first reaction after reading Nick’s story this morning was to think about how pathetic I am sometimes.  I recently complained about a pain I felt in my heel for a little while after running on the treadmill last week, and I also occasionally stare in the mirror feeling shrieks of terror as I try to determine if my hairline has begun to recede or not.  

So Nick Gilbert’s story, and message, definitely put life into proper perspective for me but it also does much more than that.  His attitude serves as a reminder, teaching point, and tremendous lesson about how to approach and attempt to live out our lives everyday.  Always look at the bright side of everything, be grateful, feel lucky. That’s what my guy Gilly does, no matter what he has going on in his life at the time, and that simplistically powerful message is something we can all learn from.  At least I feel like I can.

Keep up the tremendous work, Nick.  You’re helping more people than you think you are with the way you approach your life, and the things you continue to accomplish in it. Keep doing your thing, sir.

To donate to Nick Gilbert’s Foundation click here.

Photo: Getty Images

Brendan Bowers

About Brendan Bowers

I am the founding editor of I am also a content strategist and social media manager with Electronic Merchant Systems in Cleveland. My work has been published in SLAM Magazine, KICKS Magazine, The Locker Room Magazine,,, and elsewhere. I've also written a lot of articles that have been published here.