If someone handed you their sweaty sneakers after a workout, you probably wouldn’t be so thrilled. But that’s because they’re not Atlanta Dream guard Brittney Sykes, and you’re not 9-year-old Mya Danielle Nelson.
The Dream, one of the WNBA’s 12 teams, faced off against the defending champion Seattle Storm on Thursday night in Atlanta. The home team came up short, losing 82-66, but after the game, Sykes singled out Nelson in the crowd and presented her with her autographed game-worn kicks.
The young fan immediately broke out into a huge smile when she saw Sykes waving at her. But when she realized Sykes was giving her the shoes, Nelson threw her arms around the Dream guard’s neck for a hug and burst into happy tears. “I love you!” she told Sykes, who returned the sentiment.
Nelson has been a fan of the Dream for about five years, her mother, Michelle, told HuffPost in an email. Michelle’s mother-in-law and godmother are both season ticket holders, so they often take Mya and her 6-year-old sister, Maci, to Dream games. The girls go to about 12 of the team’s 17 home games each season, Michelle said.
In a clip shared by the WNBA’s #WNBAKicks account on Twitter, Sykes said that Nelson stands out because she’s “the loudest kid in the gym. You’re shooting a free throw, and she’s like, ‘Yeah, you’ve got it, guys! Give me another one!’ And it’s like — you can’t ignore it. ... She’s the biggest supporter.”
Michelle told HuffPost that her daughter’s love even extends to the team’s mascot, Star, who is the girls’ “best buddy.” She added that Nelson doesn’t have one favorite player on the Dream, though in addition to Sykes she admires All-Star guard Tiffany Hayes and veteran forward Angel McCoughtry.
The WNBA shared a clip of Nelson right after she received Sykes’ sneakers, and the beaming 9-year-old spit some wise truths regarding gender bias in sports while clutching her new kicks. “At my school, sometimes girls get bullied about how they can’t play basketball with the boys. I play ... and I have a really fun time,” she said. “I think that all of these young women are very good at sports.”
Michelle noted that her daughter is often the only girl who plays because the other girls don’t think it’s feminine enough. “She said, ‘Girls can play basketball just like the boys — and sometimes even better than the boys,’” Michelle said, quoting her daughter.
Sykes said in the WNBA’s video that she wants to start doing more giveaways to “superfans” like Nelson. “That’s one of the reasons why I play,” Sykes explained. “Whether she plays basketball or not, for her to just love women’s sports is huge. She’s our next generation.”
As for the prized footwear? It’s currently stashed away in Nelson’s bedroom, Michelle said, until the family can get a proper display case for them. “She said she doesn’t want anything to happen to her new ‘babies.’”