One of Jack Gallagher's old basketball sneakers rests on the scoring table at his games, a talisman that the 13-year-old point guard from Erie and his teammates touch before they take the court.
The other Jordan CP3 sneaker, the signature line of Los Angeles Clippers guard Chris Paul - Jack Gallagher's favorite player - was placed on his mother's grave in Erie.
The shoes were the last gift Lisa Elaine Gallagher gave her youngest child before she died of brain cancer in September at age 49, and Jack wore them long after it became obvious they were too small for his rapidly growing feet.
"He really struggled with the loss of his mother," said his father, Mike, 51. "He said, 'But they're Mom's shoes.' "
Jack, older brother Sean, and Mike Gallagher channeled that grief into a 21/2-minute video posted on Vimeo that was aimed at grabbing Paul's attention and persuading him to write Lisa Gallagher's initials on his shoes for a game dedicated to her memory.
The effort was more about therapy than anything else. Jack Gallagher was having trouble sleeping by himself and worried about also losing his father, who is awaiting a kidney transplant.
"I never thought Chris Paul would see the video," he said.
Instead, through social media, Paul was one of the video's first five viewers, and invited Jack and some of his friends to a Nov. 26 Clippers-Pistons game in Detroit, Mike Gallagher said.
Paul wrote Lisa Gallegher's initials on his shoes and led the Clippers to a 104-98 victory, scoring 23 points in an emotional night for Jack and his father - and the NBA superstar.
"Some things are bigger than the game of basketball," Paul said after the game. "As a kid, I couldn't imagine losing any of my family members, let alone my mom - and to see how strong he was was inspiring to me."
Mike Gallagher said the chance for his son to meet Paul and his teammates "really brought him out of the shell he was in."
Hanging out with sports celebrities isn't unfamiliar territory for the family. Mike Gallagher is a longtime Erie-area sports broadcaster, photographer, and cameraman who grew up in Pittsburgh and attended Central Catholic High School with former Miami Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino, whose father is godfather to Gallagher's daughter.
James Conner, a University of Pittsburgh all-American running back this season, played football with Sean Gallagher at McDowell High School in Erie and has been a close family friend for years.
But for Jack Gallagher, meeting Paul was an entirely different experience.
"I like the way he always looked at the floor and how many assists he had. He's an unselfish player," Jack said. "I was actually wishing my mom was there to see it with me, and I never thought I would get to meet him in real life."
The encounter, and the ensuing media coverage, has made Jack Gallagher something of a celebrity himself, obligating him to dutifully pose for pictures with other players - especially girls' teams - at basketball tournaments such as the Santa Slam tournament Sunday at Shady Side Academy near Pittsburgh.
"It was kind of embarrassing," Jack said, though he added he's getting used to the attention and accommodates all the requests.
Jack's time in the spotlight isn't over yet. An ESPN crew was shooting footage of his Walnut Creek Middle School team's game Sunday for an E:60 newsmagazine episode.
"With all this media attention, he actually maintains some levelheadedness. It's just kind of remarkable when you think about it," said Nick Haller, Jack's coach. "A lot of it has to do with the kids on his team. They realize what's going on. They're not jealous. They're not resentful. They support him in everything he does."
And through it all, Jack has stayed in touch with Paul, who messages him regularly and has invited him to another NBA game in February.