It didn’t matter that Jason McElwain grabbed the lead of this touching story four years earlier - with an even “hotter than a pistol” hand.
It didn’t matter that the St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Bryan Burwell was in the stands or local television cameras rolled or a P-D photographer snapped off every shot of their son from putting on his Kirkwood (Mo.) High School jersey beforehand to being carried off the court by the student body after.
It didn’t matter that Kirkwood’s opponent, winless Fox High School, was in on the theatrics or that the game was lopsided or that everything seemed set up for a Kodak moment.
All that outside stuff didn’t mean a thing to Kevin and Ann Stillman.
All that mattered to them was what happened inside their 18-year-old son David, a special-education student who had spent the previous three-plus seasons as a basketball team manager.
And if they didn’t know before he drilled his second 3-pointer of a 70-30 victory Monday night in Kirkwood — at the buzzer poetically enough — then they certainly knew something magical occurred after it swished through as he danced, exalted and flailed, all the things any 18-year-old would do in the midst of a lifelong dream.
“For David, it was momentous,” Kevin Stillman said. “And that made it momentous for all of us.”
“All” wasn’t just the 25 or so family members who made the event, but the three-quarters full gym, many of whom had been touched by David since he was nicknamed “Chubbs” during his freshman year. He was coined after a character in the movie “Happy Gilmore," which is fitting because this story is nothing but happy.
David’s older brother Adam, 22, and younger brother Nate, 15, were two of six shirtless fans who bore a single letter on their chest to spell “C-H-U-B-B-S.” On Adam’s back was the painted inscription “Big Bro” and on Nate were the letters “Little Bro.”
David’s other sibling Laura, a sophomore at DePaul in Chicago, made a special flight for the Monday game.
This was indeed a family celebration but so much more.
The game was the brainchild of last season’s senior stars Mark Bearden and Britton Schlotz, who according to Kevin, got in Coach Bill Gunn’s ear about getting David into the game, much like Greece Athena (Rochester, N.Y.) coach Jim Johnson did for autistic team manager McElwain.
Everyone remembers that story. Who couldn't?
In what was considered the Story of the Year in 2006 that led to a book and movie and a meeting with George W. Bush himself, McElwain captured the hearts of the country by hitting six 3-pointers and scoring 20 points in the final four minutes of a lopsided game.
Afterward, McElwain told reporters he was simply "hot as a pistol."
David had seen McElwain’s story many times on the TV and promised his folks that would be him someday soon too. Like McElwain, David was an utterly beloved figure on the Kirkwood campus.
“He’d tell us that he was going to get in a game one day,” his father said. “But he never asked to go in.”
But Gunn said he had this all planned out at least a year in advance.
Fox coach Chris Wilkenson was a good friend of his and asked quite gingerly if he’d be comfortable with David taking center stage.
“I made it clear that I didn’t want his players holding back,” Gunn said.
Wilkenson agreed and as the game grew closer last month, David kept telling his parents that he would be suiting up for an upcoming game.
Kevin said he didn’t want to discourage David, who plays regularly for a Special Olympics squad, but he didn’t want him to get his hopes too high either.
However when Gunn called the Stillman family and told them that Kevin would be starting Monday and see considerable time in the second half, the reality set in.
So did the emotion.
“David has had a lot of challenges to overcome in his life and this was going to be an opportunity to do something he truly loves,” Kevin said. “He loves the game of basketball.”
He also loves Michael Jordan and when teammate Myles Artis gave up his No. 23 to let David wear it, this feel-good story was feeling even better.
“I was emotional before, during and after the game,” Kevin said. “I never expected anything like this.”
Gunn started David, a 6-foot, 170-pound senior, and immediately instructed the Pioneers, an up-tempo, pressing team, into a 2-3 zone defense.
Fox, as Wilkenson promised, went full board and jumped to a 9-2 lead. When David returned to the bench, Kirkwood scored 22 straight points and the game was well in hand.
That signaled David back into the lineup in the fourth quarter and a yeoman’s effort by every Pioneer to get Chubbs the ball. When he connected early in the fourth quarter – one of nine 3-point attempts – the place went bonkers.
When he made the last one, right before the horn, it was Shangri-La. It was Disneyland. It was Hollywood.
The team immediately hoisted David on their shoulders. Then, after a respectful handshake exchange with the Fox players, the student body stormed the court and raised Chubbs once more.
“As wonderful as the media coverage and television cameras and all the rest of it has been, the only thing that really mattered was seeing the reaction on his face,” Gunn said.
Said Kevin: “The shot itself had no bearing on the game. But for us to see David doing something he loves so much had a tremendous bearing on his happiness. … And our happiness. We couldn’t be more thankful for all who made this possible. The support and love shown David and our family has been overwhelming.”
Asked what would have happened had David not made any shots, Kevin said: “Of course it wouldn’t have mattered to us. But it probably would have mattered to him. He knows the game of basketball. He knows it’s all about putting the ball in the basket. I’ll say this: he definitely grabbed the spotlight.”
And shook it. And he rocked this St. Louis suburb.
Not because he made two meaningless shots in a lopsided game, but because the utter joy he displayed by simply playing a game, an opportunity easily and often taken for granted.
He displayed perhaps even better afterward with his dance moves and pumped fists and bear hugs - all while never taking out his mouth guard. He was in game mode before, during and after the referees took the court.
“He didn’t care about getting on TV or in the newspaper,” Gunn said. “For him it was just a chance to play with others, with his friends and classmates. To make that last shot was simply icing on the cake.”