CHICAGO - As he sat on his family's living room couch constantly watching NBA games as a three-year old kid, Tristan Branstrom inherited his dad's affliction: a fierce love and loyalty for the Chicago Bulls.
Young Tristan grew especially fond of Derrick Rose. Not just because he was a Rookie of the Year and MVP winner. Not just because he's a three-time All-Star and the No. 1 pick of the 2008 NBA draft.
Tristan's adoration of Rose stems from the star's humility and pride, one of the many virtues that were instilled upon Tristan at an early age. "He is the best player and person on the court. He never complains or shows off," Tristan says.
While countless "fans" jumped off the bandwagon when Rose went through a myriad of injuries that threatened his career, Tristan never gave up. Unlike pop music or style trends, his support of the former Bull is here to stay, through thick and thin, through good times and bad.
So when his parents gifted him a Derrick Rose jersey from his days at Simeon Career Academy in the Christmas of 2017, Tristan was reduced to tears, overflowing with the happiness that make the holidays worth the emotional and financial investment that we pour unto it.
Nearly a year later, as Christmas of 2018 beckoned, Tristan's dad, Rick, thought that having the jersey signed would be the gift of a lifetime for his son, now 12 years old and a sixth grader at Taft middle school in Crown Point, Indiana.
It wasn't the easiest thing to pull off considering how difficult it is to penetrate a celebrity athlete's privacy walls within the confines of a heavily-secured NBA arena.
So Rick made a leap of faith last month and contacted me on Facebook, a common dwelling both for new acquaintances and old, long lost-friends.
"He knows his stats line after every game and in my son's world, Derrick Rose will always be the MVP. After hearing an emotional Rose speak following his 50-point explosion this season, he told me, 'You see, dad, that's why he's the best.'"
Ricks adds, "my son shares the same birthday as Rose and he is over-the-moon happy about that, too."
Rick could have gone on and on. But I cut him short. I heard enough to be quickly sold on the idea. As a dad to a 15-year boy who also loves the NBA, I completely understood Rick's plight and I appreciated the lengths parents go through for their children.
So last November 24, when the Bulls played the Timberwolves at the Target Center I made the eight-hour drive to Minnesota. At the conclusion of the Wolves' 111-96 win, I secured - with the help of Timberwolves PR personnel Aaron Seehusen, Dan Bell and Sara Perez - a private audience with Rose.
After discussing Manny Pacquiao's invitation for him to watch his January 19, 2019 fight versus Adrien Broner at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, I told Rose about Tristan and wondered if he could sign the jersey I brought with me.
"Sure, I'll be happy to," Derrick said. "I hope to meet him one day."
In a few hours, when it's Christmas morning here in the United States, Rick will give Rose's signed and now-framed Simeon jersey to his precious child. I can already see the moisture as Tristan's soft brown eyes dance with disbelief.
But that's not the best part.
On December 26, the morning after Christmas, Tristan will go to the United Center to watch Rose and the Timberwolves play the Bulls. What Tristan doesn't know is that after the game, if all plans go well, I will escort him to meet his idol.
For a grumpy old man such as myself, I gotta admit it's refreshing to play Santa and see the sparkle in a child's eyes, that genuine and unbridled joy that captures the spirit of Christmas.
I wish I can do it more than just once a year.