Adreian Payne, the former Michigan State big man and 2014 first-round draft pick of the Atlanta Hawks, has died at age 31.
According to a press release from the Orange County Sheriff’s Office in Orlando, Florida, Payne was shot early Monday morning and was pronounced dead on arrival at a local hospital. The alleged shooter, Lawrence Dority, stayed at the scene of the crime and cooperated with police. After questioning, he was arrested and jailed on a charge of first-degree murder.
Payne, originally from Dayton, Ohio, led his high school to a division championship in his senior year before committing to Michigan State. Once at MSU, he started slow, but developed into a talented big man. He was a standout who won multiple awards, including MSU’s Scholar-Athlete Award, the team’s most improved player award (in his sophomore year) and was the recipient of the first Los Angeles Athletic Club Outreach Award, presented as part of the John R. Wooden Award Gala. He was also an Academic All-Big Ten honoree in his sophomore year, and Second-team All-Big Ten honoree in his junior year. He helped third-seeded Michigan State win the Big Ten championship in 2014.
Payne was diagnosed with reduced lung capacity during his freshman year, which runs in his family. He lost his mother to a severe asthma attack when he was 13. His mother died in his arms while he was searching for her inhaler. He lost his grandmother, who became his legal guardian following his mother’s death, to asthma-related respiratory failure a few years into his college career. To deal with his condition, Payne learned how to take shorter breaths so he wouldn’t gasp for air after a few minutes on the court.
"I’m in shock at the tragic news of Adreian Payne’s death," Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said in a statement. "Our prayers are with his family, teammates and loved ones.
"Adreian was loved by his teammates and coaches, who respected his development as a player and a person. He came to Michigan State with a ton of raw talent and put in the work to reach his goal of becoming an NBA player … I’ve heard from many of those players today, each one experiencing heartbreak, and each one with their own fond memory of Adreian."
Draymond Green honored his former teammate with a message on his shoes ahead of the Golden State Warriors’ Game 4 matchup with the Memphis Grizzlies on Monday night.
The NBA and beyond
After a stellar college career, Payne was picked 15th overall by the Atlanta Hawks in the 2014 draft. He spent most of his first year in the league dealing with plantar fasciitis and going back and forth between the Hawks and the NBA’s D League, until he was traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves in Feb. 2015.
He stayed with the Timberwolves through the 2016-17 season, then spent a short time with the Orlando Magic before playing overseas. He began with Greek team Panathinaikos in 2018 and moved around the international pro basketball circuit. He played steadily for teams in China, France and Turkey. His most recent team was Juventus Utena in Lithuania where he played for a few months before ending his time with the team in Feb. 2022.
Friendship with a young cancer patient
One thing many people remember about Payne is his friendship with an 8-year-old cancer patient named Lacey Holsworth. Payne met Lacey in 2011 when the MSU basketball team visited Sparrow Hospital in Lansing. She had been diagnosed with neuroblastoma, and at one point was paralyzed due to tumors on her spine and abdomen.
Lacey and Payne began texting back and forth and developed a friendship. During his senior year in 2014, he escorted her onto the court for senior night, and she was there when MSU won the Big Ten championship — she even helped cut down the net.
“She calls me her ‘Superman,’ but she’s the one who’s got the super strength,” Payne told the Detroit Free Press in 2014. “She’s incredible with everything she’s gone through. [Doctors] told her she wouldn’t walk again. But she did. She’s just an incredible fighter. And if I can bring her a little bit of happiness to help her forget everything for a little while, then that’s what I want to do.”
Although Lacey died of her cancer on April 8, 2014, she made a profound impact on Payne’s life.
“It can’t be all about you,” Payne told the Free Press. “I think that’s one thing I’ve learned now that I probably didn’t know as a freshman. That’s true with your teammates. What can you do to help make them better?
“And it’s true with others you meet. It’s more important to have a role in other people’s lives that you care for.”