As the family began to make its way toward the six-passenger plane that would fly them to Charlotte, Tim Dews looked at his son D'Marcus and smiled.
"It's like M.J. used to say before he would dunk, 'Time to take flight, man,'" Dews said.
Thanks to the Make-A-Wish Foundation, D'Marcus Dews, a 16-year-old Brainerd High School student who is battling brain cancer, flew Thursday morning from the Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport for a weekend trip that will include a private lunch with Michael Jordan.
Dews, his father, mother Cheketia Flippin and a cousin also have tickets to a Charlotte Bobcats NBA game tonight. The lunch with Jordan is Saturday; they'll come home Sunday.
"I never thought I would ever even fly in an airplane," D'Marcus said. "Doing that and getting to meet Michael Jordan, this is the most exciting thing that's ever happened in my life."
While the opportunity to meet arguably the greatest basketball player ever would be a thrill for anyone, it is an especially bright spot in D'Marcus' life. Last October, without warning, he fell to the floor and began to convulse. The seizure led his parents to rush him to the emergency room, and a CAT scan revealed a tumor the size of a peach pit in his brain.
Doctors removed the tumor and a biopsy revealed it was cancerous.
"That's the worst feeling in the world, to hear that your child is that sick," Flippin said. "You get scared, worried for them. You don't want them to have to go through anything like that.
"But D'Marcus has been so positive through all these months, all the treatments. He's a great kid and I'm so glad he's getting to do something like meet one of his heroes."
D'Marcus endured six weeks of radiation treatment and will go back for a check-up in April to learn whether he will need further treatments. He said his plan, once he is declared cancer-free, is to try out for the Brainerd basketball team as a senior next season.
"I love the game," D'Marcus said. "If I couldn't meet Michael Jordan, my next wish would have been either Kobe Bryant or LeBron James. I just wanted to get to meet one of the great players, but Jordan was the first person that popped in my mind. I still can't believe I'll actually meet him."
After filling out his Make-A-Wish paperwork in December, Dews was contacted last month and told that his wish had been granted. He would get to meet and have lunch at the Ritz Carlton with one of the world's most recognized sports icons.
"Just the look on his face whenever we would talk about it, he couldn't stop smiling," Tim Dews said. "All of us are fans, so I was joking with D'Marcus that it was like my wish and his wish were both granted. I can't wait to see his reaction when Michael Jordan sits down with us. That will be something really special. I think we're all too nervous to even think about eating.
"You hear about other kids having to go through something like this, but when it hits your home, it's just tough to see your child have to deal with it. It's like nothing you can imagine. So for D'Marcus, his mom and all of us to get to relax, put our problems away for a little while and enjoy something fun, this is wonderful."
Sitting in the TAC Air lounge, waiting as the plane was prepped for takeoff, D'Marcus tugged the gray toboggan down tighter over his head as he gazed out at the small airplane, a nervous grin curling his lips. Hours later, from the family's hotel room in Charlotte, his voice was still noticeably excited over the phone as he described the flight.
David Harris, the pilot who volunteers his time to fly local Make-A-Wish kids to their destination, most of which are to Disney World, began putting the family at ease as soon as they walked into the lounge by promising he would take them on a sightseeing tour along the way. TAC Air donates fuel for the local kids' trips.
"What makes this type thing most special for me is just getting to be a part of helping make a kid's wish come true," Harris said. "And it's really neat for me to get to hear the stories from the family when we pick them up and fly them back home.
"Getting to see the family's faces when we pick them up to come back home, I see how much these trips touch their lives. It's a really big deal."