Wilson Batista smiled shyly as he wheeled his son, Wilson Jr., onto the basketball court at Madison Square Garden before Thursday's Knicks game against the Toronto Raptors.
The two had never been to a Knicks game, but basketball has always been their sport. They used to regularly play one-on-one against each other at a court in Timberline Park that was just a few 100 yards from where they live in Brentwood.
"We will play again," Wilson Jr. said, "and I will beat him just like I did before."
"Before" is before the shooting last summer, before Wilson Jr., a student at North Middle School, was caught in a volley of bullets while playing basketball with his friends on the same court where he and his dad played.
Wilson Jr. was struck by a bullet in the head and nearly died in the shooting, for which Alexander A. Aguilar, 18, of Deer Park, stands charged with first-degree assault. The teen spent more than two weeks in a coma and four months in the hospital. Wilson lost his right eye in the shooting and suffered brain damage. Doctors weren't sure if he would ever walk again, but Wilson Jr. and his father had other ideas.
His mother, Ramona Batista, quit her job at a perfume company to care for her son full time. Three times a week, she takes him to physical therapy. And five nights a week, she drives him to Southside Hospital in Bay Shore, where Wilson Sr. works as a custodian.
Father and son walk the halls there together during Wilson Sr.'s breaks. Wilson Jr., using a cane, can now take as many as 300 steps, though he still uses a wheelchair for long trips such as last night's outing to the Garden.
Friday is Wilson Jr.'s 14th birthday, and the Batistas got to celebrate in high style the night before as guests of the Knicks and the Garden of Dreams Foundation, a nonprofit charity run by Madison Square Garden.
On Wednesday, Wilson Jr. toured the Knicks' practice facility and met the players. Nate Robinson, his favorite, presented him with a Knicks jersey with his name on it, which he wore to last night's game. He and his family watched team warm-ups from the floor before being escorted to a suite.
Said Wilson Jr.: "It is great to be here. It feels great to be alive."