Autism Awareness Month: Utah Jazz forward Joe Ingles forms a bond with a young fan

The little boy’s arm jutted out toward the player, a jersey clenched in his hand. Around the court, there are dozens, hundreds even, of exchanges before each game: a player and a fan, a jersey and a signature in black Sharpie. But Nixon Price didn’t want Joe Ingles autograph—the boy was giving Ingles’ his, his 10-year-old handwriting on the back of his green Junior Jazz jersey.

It’s that confidence that drew Ingles to the boy in the first place.

“He’s got no filter,” Ingles says. “That’s kind of like me.”

It can also be a quality associated with autism. So when Nixon and Ingles met, a chance encounter just after publicly announcing his own son’s autism diagnosis, a bond was formed.

“He’s a really cool kid,” Ingles says. “He says what he thinks. He has autism. He struggles with some things, but all kids do. Just an awesome kid from an awesome family.”

Nixon was with his parents, Ryan and Nicole Price, and his wheelchair Junior Jazz team at a game earlier this season when they happened to share an elevator with Donovan Mitchell’s mother, Nicole.

“Is that a true fact?” Nixon asked Nicole Mitchell.

“Yes, it is,” she said.

“Like, you’ve actually met him?” Nixon asked.

She laughed, “I have. Have you?”

Nixon had not and Nicole Mitchell wanted to change that, so she arranged a meeting after the game.

Nicole Mitchell had to leave the arena early to catch a flight. But after the game, the Prices stayed near the players’ exit and waited for Donovan.

“The players would come down the hall and every single one stopped,” Ryan Price said. “No one was flagged down. They all stopped and talked to Nixon. For me, this was the most incredible part. There are no cameras, no crowds, no reason to do this other than they’re good guys. They know what they can do for people just by saying hello.”

Nixon cracked Georges Niang up by voicing some of the complaints Ryan had made about the forward’s game. When Ingles stopped, Nixon got the Aussie laughing with a remark about Danté Exum.

Ingles could see Nixon was in a wheelchair, but he did not know that the child had cerebral palsy. And only after 10 or 15 minutes of talking did he find out that Nixon, like Ingles’ 2-year-old son Jacob, was on the autism spectrum.

So Ingles invited the family back to Vivint Smart Home Arena for Nixon’s 10th birthday, to watch the Jazz take on the Oklahoma City Thunder. Ingles spent a few minutes talking and laughing with the Prices before his warmup. When Jazz point guard Ricky Rubio started shooting in the corner near the Prices, he tossed the ball to Nixon and asked for a pass back.

“Nixon plays in an adaptive league,” Ryan Price said. “He shoots and shoots and shoots. I tell him, ‘Dude, you’ve got to get your assists up.’ I tease him that that pass to Rubio was his first assist.’”

But Nixon has his reasons.

“I hate passing when I’m on fire,” he said.

Ingles and the boy talked about sports.

“Nixon’s a total geek with sports,” Ryan Price said. “He knows every player, everything about them. It’s incredible.”

The Jazzman talked to Nixon’s parents for a long while too.

“We spoke about Jacob a lot,” Ingles said. “They’ve got this cool thing they share.”

The Prices have appreciated how the Ingles family has embraced not only Nixon but the entire autism community since announcing Jacob’s diagnosis.

“I think it’s incredible,” Nicole Price said. “I love that they didn’t hide it. It’s not something to feel ashamed or embarrassed about. It’s just something that makes him who he is. I love that they’ve shared with the world and embraced the autism community. They’re raising awareness, raising money. They’re doing amazing things.”

The Prices were invited back once more last week for Autism Awareness Night at the arena. That’s where Nixon gave Ingles his jersey and showed the Aussie how he has been practicing his left-handed shot, turning Ingles’ shooting form into his own.

“I can shoot just like him,” Nixon said.

Ingles smiled and began warming up his own lefty jumper.

It won’t be their last time together.

“Basketball is great, but it’s amazing to meet people like this,” Ingles said. “He has a young mom and dad going through a tough time. To make them smile is great. And I have no doubt we’ll end up seeing them outside of the arena. They’re just a cool regular family.”

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