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Gio Toribio is rubbing sleep from his eyes. His mother tells him the call is for him. Gio and his parents, Juan and Lauren, would instead be boarding a morning flight to Minneapolis, where they would be the guests of Covington. Upon arrival, Gio spent that Thursday with Covington and his family. Covington was thrilled to see Gio having the time of his life, something that seemed improbable for a kid whose scars on each side of his head hint at the horrific ordeal he has been through.

Less than four years earlier, Gio was diagnosed with Stage 3 anaplastic large cell lymphoma.

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His parents took him to the hospital, where a doctor told them it was just a bruise. A month later Gio was wrestling with his younger brother, Lorenzo, and the two bumped he. Lorenzo, unfazed, shook it off.

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Gio, who still had the bruise, cried uncontrollably. When the crying continued for 45 straight minutes, the Toribios rushed their son to the emergency room as a precaution. Then, on Aug. But Gio noticed when he started to lose his hair on his head and eyebrows.

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He played on his Xbox and his smile made him a big hit with the nurses. But when Gio entered the hospital for a cranial surgery in Februarya biopsy revealed additional bad news. Gio was diagnosed with McCune-Albright syndrome, a rare genetic disorder that has multiple symptoms, including being vulnerable to bone fractures throughout the body.

The family was told that Gio, with the bone disorder, would likely be restricted from playing competitive sports for the rest of his life.

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The two were developing a bond, but the Knicks released Randle before the season. Randle eventually ed with the Philadelphia 76ers.

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Randle, unfortunately, was released by the Sixers the day before the game. Gio was crushed.

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On game day, Gio attended the Wells Fargo Center still wearing his hospital surgical mask. During pregame warm-ups, Gio and his family asked a security guard if he could deliver the bracelets to the players for him. The security guard denied the request. Instead, he took Gio to a tunnel where he would be able to hand out the bracelets. Simmons also gave Gio an autographed shoe. But it just drew me to him. There, Covington gave Gio a game jersey and asked his parents questions about the challenges they faced as Gio battled cancer.

Covington learned that the family lived in New York and offered them tickets to the Sixers game against the Knicks the following night.

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When he did, you could see his whole life light up. That first FaceTime call of just a few minutes had a lasting impact. Gio and Covington began FaceTiming almost daily. Covington had Gio and his family at his New Jersey home multiple times and even shared Thanksgiving dinner at the Toribio home.

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And when Covington played in New York, he would make sure the Toribios had tickets to the game. On Nov. The good news was the tumor was benign. Juan showed his son a social media post on the breaking news that Covington had been traded to the Timberwolves. His room, which once incorporated the colors of the Sixers, has now been painted in the shades of green and blue worn by the Timberwolves. Still, the Toribios credit Covington with raising the spirits of a young boy who could have sunk into a dark hole with his cancer diagnosis.

Gio, whose cancer is in remission, still faces challenges. While he is currently playing on a Catholic Youth Organization basketball team, which started shortly after he was cleared to play football, the McCune-Albright syndrome continues to affect the strength of his bones and has caused a collapse under his eye. Specialists are currently creating a 3-D printing that will be surgically placed under his eye — replacing the plastic plate that currently in place — after the new year.

Photos provided by the Toribio family.

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Photo by Jerry Bembry. Pediatric Cancer Foundation. Lauren Toribio.