The Hollidaysburg-based Sideline Cancer basketball team has donated over $300,000 to pancreatic cancer research, given over $10,000 to patients directly, and were The Basketball Tournament runners up in 2020.
The latest thing they’re adding to their resume doesn’t have to do with basketball or cancer it’s helping to save someone from a war-torn country.
Here’s how it happened.
Back in 2020, Sideline Cancer competed for a chance to win $1,000,000 in TBT Tournament on ESPN.
Professional basketball player Maurice Creek, known as Mo, shot the winning three pointer sending them to the championships.
“People from not just our area, but across the United States, latched onto the ‘I Can’ attitude and ‘Believe Always’ spirit that Sideline Cancer exhibits,” said Jordan Griffith with the team.
The following year, Sideline Cancer held a basketball clinic at home in Hollidaysburg to expose more people to their mission.
They, of course, invited Mo.
“He agreed to drive up from Washington D.C. which is something that he didn’t need to do but he chose to do it, because he believes in our mission and trying to give back,” Jordan told 6 News.
Erik and Nik Nordberg, a father/son basketball loving duo from the Gettysburg area, were there too.
They almost didn’t make it.
“I said to my son, ‘Hey man, I don’t know, what do you think, should we go?’ He’s like, ‘Yeah dad, I think we should go.'” Erik told 6 News.
They decided to make the trip out to Blair County, and in hindsight, they’re glad they did.
“I said, ‘You never know who you’re going to meet and you never know what’s going to happen, so, let’s go for it,'”
That’s where the Nordbergs were introduced to Mo Creek.
“Mo came over, and I said, ‘Hey Mr. Creek, Maurice, would you just shake my son’s hand. I just want to introduce you guys. We just wanted to meet you.’ That’s how it started, really,” Erik said.
“We were amazed because Mo was making half court shots like they were free throws. It was just a neat experience. We were watching him work with kids, and I thought, this guy is a pro athlete, and he’s talking to these kids like he’s a brother, a friend, like a dad even to some of the younger kids,” he continued.
Then, they went their separate ways, or so they thought.
Following the clinic, Erik formed an AAU basketball team representing sideline cancer.
Mo went back to playing professional basketball overseas, most recently, for the MBC Mykolaiv Team in Ukraine.
You could call it bad timing, because Mo was there when Russia invaded Ukraine.
Erik caught wind that Mo was there.
“Whenever the Russians invaded, I said, ‘Hey, Mo’s out right?’ They said, ‘No, he’s still there.’ I said, ‘Then we got a problem.’ That’s when I started working on it,” Erik told 6 News.
In addition to being a basketball coach, Erik is also a 23-year military veteran, serving as an Army Special Forces Officer and Lieutenant Colonel.
“We didn’t have days to talk to people about what to do. It had to be done. It had to be done right away,” Erik said.
Little did he know he had a new operation: “Operation Bring Mo Home.”
“My wife was like, ‘Are you coming to bed?’ This is a decision point. I said, ‘No I’m not. I’m going to get this guy,'” Erik said.
This is when they realized it was meant to be that they met.
“It was kind of funny that we do this extraction with Mo, because a lot of my career I spent working and thinking about Russia and Eastern Europe, and how to do operations there,” Erik said.
He started drafting escape plans.
“I’m sitting in my basement. I have a screen that has a split screen. It’s got four cameras and a live situation map that’s updating where the Russians are and what’s happening on the ground.”
That’s how Erik could guide Mo step by step over the phone.
“I’m looking at his whole route like, ‘Hey, there’s a bridge out.’ I texted him, ‘Hey, somebody just bombed this road, I just wanted to let you know. The Russians are here. Hopefully you guys are going around the city.’ We just stayed in contact.”
Erik had many sleepless days and nights.
“Each night, I would literally try to lay down, and my phone would ring, and it would be Romania, or it would be Mo, or it would be somebody in Ukraine.”
Erik served as Mo’s catalyst to the outside world and avenue for safety.
“I figured that I have to establish a standard routine for Mo every single day. One hour before sun up, he wakes up, he puts on all of his clothes, he eats a big breakfast, he drinks a lot of water, and his bags are packed.”
Erik was in constant communication with 10 people that he had met throughout his time in the military throughout Eastern Europe.
“Mo is sending me google updates with his pin. He’s dropping a pin at his location. I’m talking to one of our support leaders in Romania. We have the bus driver dropping a pin where he is. We’re literally trying to put all of these people together at the same location,” Erik said.