Christian Athlete of the Week: Nenê

At birth, his name was Maybyner Rodney Hilario, but we all know him simply as Nenê. The Brazilian basketball player was originally drafted by the New York Knicks in the 1st round of the 2002 NBA Draft, but was then immediately traded to the Denver Nuggets. He began his rookie season as a bench player, but then started to ease into the starting lineup by the end of the year. Next season, as a full-time starter, he averaged 11.8 points, 6.5 rebounds and 1.5 steals per game. Problems with injuries slowed his career down at Denver, but then on January 11, 2008, Nenê received some devastating news: he had testicular cancer. He was only 25 years old when doctors found the tumor and it seemed as if his NBA career was coming to a sudden stop to the power forward. He talks about going through that difficult time to The Christian Post:

I say: ‘Why? Why me? All bad dudes around, why me? I’m a good guy,'” said Nenê, according to the Post. “But God, when He want to test someone, He put this kind of test and He bless you after that. I had to prove that I can get back from cancer. From cancer!” (Credit: The Christian Post)

Nenê stayed diligent in prayer and on January 14th, 2008, he got the tumor removed at a Denver hospital. He returned to action on March 27th later that year and received a standing ovation. Even better, the Nuggets won the game by beating the Dallas Mavericks 118-105. Now, Nenê is playing for the Washington Wizards and finished the regular season with 14.2 points, 5.5 rebounds, 2.9 assists and 1.2 steals per game. He has been a huge help for the Wizards in their playoff run. In the series win against the Chicago Bulls, Nenê averaged 17.8 points, 6.5 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game. Currently, the Wizards are down 3-1 to the Indiana Pacers and are facing elimination. 

However, Nenê has learned how to deal with any tough situation. Growing up in Brazil, he wasn’t always so fortunate and his story is a true rags to riches kind of tale. 

“I always remember what I’ve been through to be here,” Nenê said. “I have no shoes, I have no clothes, but I was blessed. I remember my mom. She have money to buy the food or give to God like you’re supposed to, because we’re Christian. She give to God and say, ‘You know, we don’t have food today, but God is going to provide our future.'”

Whether it was cancer or poverty, Nenê learned how to trust God in difficult situations. His wife, Lauren Hilario, was also going through brain cancer around the same time that Nenê had testicular cancer. The couple have now celebrated five years of marriage and have a baby boy together. Nenê is now making more money than he could ever dream of and God has truly blessed his life. 

“I realize God, He marked me, to understand, back in the day when I diagnosed with cancer, He said, ‘You’re going to have it because you’re going to help a lot of people,'” Nenê said. “I’m not nothing without God. The things I’ve been through, I been through because He was with me. If I wasn’t, I would’ve fell on the first wall.”

Nenê understood that just because you are a good person does not mean that bad things won’t happen to you. Nenê now knows what God’s plan for him is and said he will retire before the 2016 Summer Olympics, which will take place in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. He said he wanted to retire earlier than most people would expect him to (around the age of 33) so he can be more involved with God is the Answer, his church in Brazil. A humble man with a humbling past, Nenê is a true role model of Christian athletes everywhere.