Kate Martin, Caitlin Clark fulfill wish of Iowa girl with cancer

Las Vegas Aces rookie guard Kate Martin hugs Bailey Lux during practice Monday, July 1, 2024, i ...

Las Vegas Aces rookie guard Kate Martin hugs Bailey Lux during practice Monday, July 1, 2024, in Las Vegas. (Photo courtesy of Aces)

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Bailey Lux always has a smile on her face, Indiana Fever rookie Caitlin Clark said.

During the Aces’ practice Monday at T-Mobile Arena, the 14-year-old’s resting expression supported Clark’s claim.

Lux beamed when Aces rookie guard Kate Martin came by to say hello. After practice ended, Lux’s wide grin couldn’t even be obscured by the phone she held up to record as the Aces boisterously partook in their customary half-court shot contest, booing at made and missed shots.

“Thanks for coming through! They’re not always this serious,” Aces coach Becky Hammon told Lux in jest. Of course, Lux smiled in response.

Multiple Aces players would soon approach Lux’s courtside table to autograph a gifted official WNBA basketball and ask about her long journey to Las Vegas from Carroll, Iowa. Lux arrived just in time to watch her two favorite Iowa Hawkeye alums play at T-Mobile Arena when the Aces face the Indiana Fever on Tuesday for the second time this season.

The trip was something of a miracle, made possible by the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

Martin lends support

Lux has a rare and aggressive form of cancer called malignant peripheral nerve sheath tumor (MPNST), which was initially found in her right arm. Her visit to Las Vegas was expedited because of recent complications with her condition.

It would have been difficult for Lux to journey all the way to a major airport. Navigating a packed commercial plane in her wheelchair also would have presented challenges. Make-A-Wish negated all of those concerns, arranging a private plane for Lux, her three older siblings and her father, Kraig Lux. Bailey will return to Iowa on Thursday, and Kraig believes a certain Aces player had a role in the accommodations.

“Kate (Martin) had been reaching out,” Kraig said. “I think she probably had something to do with the back side of things. She had reached out on Friday and sent me a message saying she wanted to fly us out to the game. I don’t know how much she had to deal with, I know it was difficult to get this done so quickly … but this is spirit-lifting.”

Bailey was diagnosed with cancer in September 2022. The lifelong Iowa sports fan met Clark and Martin during a hospital visit shortly after, and they have kept in contact with Bailey and her family ever since.

The teenager has 19 followers on her private Instagram account. Two of them are Martin and Clark.

“I get to tell people, ‘Oh, yeah, I talk to Kate. Me and her are pretty good friends,’” Bailey said Monday, adding that conversations span from basketball to updates about her health.

‘No different than any other kid’

Martin and Clark have witnessed the highs and lows of Bailey’s battle. She lost her mother, Renee Lux, to ovarian cancer in January. A month later, Bailey would ring the bell and briefly experience being cancer-free before it returned and spread to her lungs.

The former Iowa teammates and best friends met Bailey when they surprised her at the Ronald McDonald House in Iowa City. The visit fell during her initial round of radiation in 2022, right after the team had advanced to the Sweet 16. Clark remembers playing Mario Kart with Bailey during one of their first encounters.

“She was no different than any other kid, just playing Wii,” Clark said Monday. “Obviously I’ve known her for a while, and I’m just trying to be as supportive as I can. I know this is something she’s really looking forward to. Like, this is what her wish was, to come to this game and to see me and Kate. I think that puts basketball, and even life, into perspective.”

Bailey doesn’t miss an opportunity to watch Clark or Martin play.

“Every single time they play, that game is on,” said her sister Brianna Lux, 21.

She’s also been to her fair share of games at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. It holds 15,400 and doesn’t feel so different from Las Vegas, Bailey said. Tuesday will be the Aces’ first of two games this season at T-Mobile Arena, which has a capacity of 18,000 for basketball.

“There’s not a bad seat in the house here,” Martin said. “At Carver, it literally felt like you were a mile away when you were sitting in the top seat.”

Wherever Bailey is sitting Tuesday, Martin and Clark are sure to feel her presence.