DALLAS — Dallas Mavericks guard Jalen Brunson has the heart of a champion.
"I play my heart out," Brunson notes. "It's in my blood."
The son of former Chicago Bull Rick Brunson, Jalen spent his teenage years in Illinois. He led Stevenson High School to a state title in 2015.
The following year, he won a national championship at Villanova.
Two years later, Brunson won another.
The second-year Mav has been a key player for Dallas, while Luka Doncic has been sidelined with an ankle injury.
Along with his leadership and winning pedigree, the Mavs rely on Brunson’s energy and inspired play.
Perhaps, no game was more inspired than the night of December 4th.
"I just got hot," Brunson recalls.
That night, Brunson scored 14 points in the 4th quarter, leading the Mavs to a comeback win over Minnesota.
In a post-game interview with Skin Wade, Brunson was asked if he was feeling something a little extra special that night.
"The spirit of Nathan Halterman."
Nathan Halterman was the team manager at Stevenson High School.
He and Brunson met when they were freshmen. They quickly became pals.
"He just brought joy and laughter to the team," Brunson remembers. "He enjoyed every moment he was around us. And so did we."
Halterman had muscular dystrophy, but he also had a love for sports.
"He put a different perspective on life for me," Brunson admits. "Made my problems seem smaller than anyone else's."
On November 30th, Halterman passed away at the age of 22.
"The first time I saw [Nathan] since high school was last year in Charlotte," says Brunson. "I didn't think that would be the last time I saw him. He was always one of my biggest fans."
On Dec. 4, Brunson scored 16 points in the win over Minnesota -- a tribute to his friend who was laid to rest the next day.
"I knew he was watching over me," admits Brunson. "It wasn't just that night. It's been every night since then. He continues to be that guardian angel."
At age 23, Brunson is wise beyond his years.
"I like getting out in the community because there's so much to do to help out this world."
Brunson has been involved with multiple charities, including a memorable visit to Covenant House Pennsylvania -- a shelter for homeless, runaway and trafficked youth.
He wants to see people succeed. He wants to see people win.
Because Jalen Brunson has the heart of a champion.