"I looked at Mike as an able-bodied person," Mitchell said. "He got around differently than me, communicated differently than me. But he didn't let his disability become a disability. Why should I treat him that way? People would always tell me how nice it was for us to spend time with him. I felt honored that Mike took time out to spend time with us. I felt like he was doing us a favor."
He had a sports blog and a Twitter account and would pepper reporters with sharp, insightful questions about how players fit into the system, who was on the trade block and how much patience owner Glen Taylor would have with the coach on the job at the time.
"He studied up on things," Saunders said. "He knew a lot about the game, about our players. He couldn't accept that he had a disability."
That's how he was raised, to be as independent as possible. And his enthusiasm was infectious.
"He led a good life," Randy said. "A lot of people felt sorry for them when they met him but he didn't want any sympathy. He just wanted to be friends."
Stephenson overcame cerebral palsy, overcame almost any obstacle put in front of his wheelchair. But he couldn't overcome the pneumonia that returned regularly thanks to his insistence on eating by mouth rather than through a tube. His doctors warned him that eating that way could cause food to aspirate in his lungs and bring on pneumonia. But Mike just loved food too much, and eating was another activity that made him just like everyone else.
The bouts got more difficult as time went on, the latest coming on Dec. 14. It caused him to vomit, which is extremely dangerous for someone in his condition. By Monday doctors told them "a decision had to be made," Randy said.
Rather than endure it any longer, Randy said Mike decided to enter hospice care and say goodbye.
"I hesitated," Randy said. "But Mike just kept shaking his head yes. He knew what was going to happen."
A funeral was scheduled for Saturday in Elkton and he will be laid to rest in Dexter, where his parents live. The Timberwolves planned to honor him during their game on Wednesday against McHale's Houston Rockets.
One thing is for sure, the kid his parents were told to leave behind won't be forgotten anytime soon.
"Mike was a true fan," Mitchell said. "He loved the players and he loved the Timberwolves. Through the good times and bad times, he was always right there in the tunnel."
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