Tayshaun Prince, a wily defender, has sneaked up on many unsuspecting people in his 10 1/2 -year NBA career.
But the normally stoic Prince has rarely done it wearing such a wide smile as he did when the new Grizzlies forward met Cory Brandt before Sunday's game against the Timberwolves in FedExForum.
Brandt was the fan caught on camera Jan. 30 in Indianapolis' Conseco Fieldhouse just before the Pistons-at-Pacers tipoff, stripping off his Prince No. 22 Pistons jersey when he learned Prince was a no-show because he had just been traded to the Grizzlies.
The Commercial Appeal, in conjunction with the Grizzlies, organized a trip to Memphis and surprise meeting with Prince for Brandt, wife Carri and infant son Landon. Brandt, a 27-year-old graphic designer from Greenwood, Ind., was doing a video interview with The Commercial Appeal when Prince appeared, sliding an arm around Brandt's shoulders.
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"I know what you felt at the time, and I was going through it," Prince told Brandt, presenting him with an autographed No. 21 Prince Griz jersey. "Things happen for a reason, that's why you're here today and why I'm here today. You touched a lot of people in my family and I just want to say thanks for what you did."
Brandt said he has been a fan of Prince, a former University of Kentucky star, since the ninth grade, when Prince was entering his freshman season with the Wildcats in 1998.
He's such a devout Wildcats hoops fan that he cut a deal with his then-pregnant wife last winter to reserve the middle name of their firstborn (if it was a boy) for the first name of the Final Four MVP if Kentucky won the national championship.
"For a while, I thought it might be Darius (Miller)," said Brandt, holding smiling 8-month-old Landon Anthony Brandt, named in honor of 2012 Final Four MVP Anthony Davis.
Prince said it spoke volumes when he first saw the film clip of Brandt, taking off Prince's Detroit jersey to reveal a blue Kentucky basketball T-shirt.
"When I saw the Kentucky shirt, it told me what kind of die-hard fan he is," Prince said.
Prince has always been Brandt's favorite player.
"It's not just for the way he plays; he's always calm and cool," Brandt said. "It's also because he's a great role model. He stayed at Kentucky for all four years. Even when things didn't go well for him in Detroit the last couple of years, he never aired his differences publicly."
Brandt got the Pistons-Pacers tickets as a Christmas present from a cousin, a Pacers season-ticket holder. He cherished the tickets so much he locked them in a safe.
On game day, he didn't think anything was out of the ordinary, even when Prince was absent in pregame warm-ups. There was no buzz in the stands about a trade.
But when the Pistons ran on the floor five minutes before the 7 p.m. tipoff, Brandt leaned over the rail to find Prince. He and his wife scanned the court. He checked his phone, and there was no news.
Finally, he called a friend upstairs sitting in a suite and got confirmation Prince had been traded.
"So I took off the Pistons jersey," Brandt said. "I'm a Tayshaun Prince fan, not a Pistons fan."
By midafternoon the next day, the video of Brandt's jersey-stripping had hit all the sports news networks, including ESPN's "Around the Horn" show. Brandt's smartphone blew up with texts.
Commercial Appeal photographer Nikki Boertman saw Brandt's video and was touched by his loyalty. She tracked him down, and with the help of Commercial Appeal publisher George Cogswell and the Grizzlies, Brandt was able to live an unexpected dream.
Sitting at courtside with Cogswell and his wife, Brandt and family received a warm ovation from the crowd when he was introduced at halftime as "the newest Grizzly fan."
"It's unbelievable that something great like this can happen for no reason," Brandt said. "It makes you think anything can happen. I'm totally shocked."