Posted: Friday May 12, 2006 12:53PM; Updated: Friday May 12, 2006 1:26PM
Vanessa Hughes kept her job at a bank even after Larry Hughes offered to take care of her when he reached the NBA in 1998.
Remembering Justin Hughes
The unexpected death Thursday of 20-year-old Justin Hughes, younger brother of Cavaliers guard Larry Hughes, saddened the entire league. Everyone knew the story of Justin, who had been born with a heart defect and had undergone a heart transplant 10 years ago. Justin was a marvel: He was unafraid of his fate and approached each day with a smile, blessing the lives of all who knew him. Donations in Justin's memory can be sent to the Larry Hughes Family Foundation (1021 South Big Bend Blvd., St. Louis, MO 63117), which assists families of organ donors and recipients with financial and emotional needs and works to educate the public about organ and tissue donations. The foundation was established in August 2000 by Larry and his mother, Vanessa, on behalf of Justin. -- Ian Thomsen
By Marty Burns, SI.com
Who can explain the bond between a mother and child? It goes to the very core of our being, yet nobody can really describe it. All we know is that it has the power to sustain life for both sides, long after the cord is cut.
Vanessa Hughes, the mother of Cleveland Cavaliers All-Star guard Larry Hughes, learned this at a young age. When she had Larry in 1979, she was a 20-year-old single parent living in the projects of St. Louis and working a low-paying job at a local bank.
Larry's father was in and out of the picture in those early years. But when Larry was seven, his parents had another son, Justin, who was born with a congenital heart defect and would undergo a heart transplant at age 10. Larry would come home from school every day to help take care of his little brother while Vanessa was at work.
"Larry was a gift from God," Vanessa said of those early days. "It's like we grew up together. That's how I look at it. I was so young. I didn't know what I was doing. We struggled through it together."
On Wednesday I placed a call to Vanessa. I had met her back in 2000 while writing a feature story about Larry for Sports Illustrated. I remembered how close she was to her son, then a member of the Philadelphia 76ers, and the special bond they had shared. It was a relationship unique even by NBA standards.
Vanessa answered the phone and immediately agreed to an interview. She was proud of Larry and wanted the world to know it. But first she wanted to tell me about Justin, who had been experiencing complications with his heart since last June, and how he was handling his latest setback.
"He goes through moments when he's scared," she said. "He'll say, 'Mom, I don't want to die.' So we talk about it. He wants to know, is it OK to feel that way? I tell him, 'Yes, of course.' But he's [20 years old] now and he understands. We just try to talk through it. He's strong, but we both have our moments.
"The thing we try to remember is that every day is a gift from God. So we just keep praying."