Joseph Tagaban fights back tears after learning he’s headed to California. (Angela Denning/Coastalaska)

A Petersburg teenager who spent nearly a year in cancer treatment in Seattle got quite a surprise Wednesday at the airport. He thought he was getting on the plane for yet another doctor’s visit. Instead, he’s off to California to meet an NBA champion.

“Wait like for real?” asked 15-year-old Joseph Tagaba. He’d just had his mind blown Wednesday and it took a while for the truth to sink in.

“So I’m not going to the appointment at all, right?” he asked again. 

Friends, classmates, coaches and family helped spring the surprise Wednesday, July 13, 2022. (Angela Denning/Coastalaska)

For the second time in less than a year family and friends gathered at the airport wearing blue and white Joseph Strong T-shirts and holding signs. In November they gave him a warm homecoming in a snow storm after months of painful treatment for leukemia at Seattle Children’s Hospital. Now, they’re sending him off on a trip of a lifetime. Teachers and coaches like Cyndy Fry and Mik Potrzuski filled him in on the details. 

“In life right, like in basketball, you never give up Joseph. Your family your team and the Petersburg community have been by your side during all the hard times. You sir have demonstrated through this process what incredible strength that you have,” Fry said.

“You have fought harder than any NBA player ever has fought for a champion and you are a champion sir. Your positivity continues to shine through. You are not headed to a medical appointment. You are headed to the golden state for the Golden State Warriors for a once in a lifetime opportunity with Klay Thompson,” Potrzuski said.

“And ESPN,” Fry added.

Tagaban’s is one of the 12,000 opportunities of a lifetime to be granted this year by Make-A-Wish America. His wish? To meet the Warriors basketball star.

“Klay helped the team, majorly helped the team win the championship and how it was just a team effort,” Tagaban said, wearing a Golden State hat. He said he watched every game of the Warriors’ latest NBA championship run.

His time with Thompson will be featured on a TV series called My Wish. That’s a 15-year-old collaboration between Make-A-Wish and sports broadcasting giant ESPN and ESPN’s correspondent Chris Connelly. 

Tagaban said he had no idea.

“I keep on getting filled with surprises,” he said. “I mean first it was the surprise right out here for the homecoming, for me coming back and now it’s for me making my wish come true. It’s crazy how thing can just happen. Life is full of surprises, I don’t know it’s just crazy to me,” he said. “I’m awestruck,” Tagaban added.

His parents were notified the day before that Joseph’s wish would be granted and the family would be flying to California the next day. Jamie Sandys, with Make-A-Wish America, says the airport surprise came together at the last minute.

“The community just came together so quickly to make that moment really special for Joseph and it’s the perfect way to kick off what’s going to be a truly unforgettable life changing experience,” Sandys said.

Tagaban is the first Alaskan to be featured on the My Wish series. No word if it’s sunk in yet.

Tagaban meets Thompson Friday, July 15 and the segment is scheduled to air Wednesday, July 20 during ESPN’s 8 a.m. block. It’s one of four in this year’s series that starts this Sunday, July 17.