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Other Dreams Realized As Former Mavs Player Battles Cancer

By Stuart Boslow, CBS 11 News
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DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) - As the Dallas Mavericks work to fend off the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals, a former Mavs player continues to fight a different kind of enemy – cancer. And, he’s done it all supported by his Mavericks teammates.

Music man Ray Johnston hasn’t always been on the performance kind of stage. “My dream in life was to play in the pros, in the NBA,” Johnston said.

In 2004, the dream of the Alabama native came true on a basketball court in Dallas. During a Hoop It Up tournament, the point guard was seen by a Dallas Mavericks scout, and was hand-picked to play for the team in the NBA Summer League.

“When we would be out with the team in Salt Lake City or Long Beach, someone would say ‘What do you do?’ and I was so used to saying loan officer, but I would say I actually play for the Mavericks,” he remembered.

Unfortunately, that dream would be short lived. In August of that same year, after a collision with another player, something went wrong. “I just bumped legs, and what would be just a normal shot in soccer or something where you just kind of say that hurts for 30 seconds and then the body takes over and your platelets clot all that, well I didn’t have any platelets,” Johnston recalled.

Doctors discovered Johnston’s body was 84-percent leukemic, meaning he had advanced stage leukemia. He was immediately placed in a medically induced coma for two months to undergo treatment.

But, through the numerous treatments, Johnston never let his spirit – or his guard – down. “I just always had that positivity around me from [Mark] Cuban to Dirk to Josh and to all the guys I played with.”

Over the next several years, Johnston would jump in and out of remission, but nothing seemed to kill the stubborn cancer in his body.

“Despite good treatment, his disease was coming back just showing how incredibly aggressive it was,” said Dr. Robert Collins from the UT Southwestern Harold C. Simmons Cancer Center.

Dr. Collins took over Johnston’s case in 2009, but after conventional treatments continued to fail, he decided to try an experimental drug called Tamibarotene – which was undergoing testing in the U.S. “Within just two to four weeks, he was showing responsiveness of these tumors pretty much melting away,” Dr. Collins said.

Johnston said the result of the treatment was a welcomed surprise. “I’ve had the disease five times in seven years, relapsed four times, and this has been the only one that’s kept me in remission.”

After 18 months Johnston is still in remission, and is now pursuing the next dream in his life as the singer of The Ray Johnston Band.

“A new challenge,” he said. “I feel like a point guard, but instead of a basketball, I have a guitar.”

But, despite his increased passion for music, basketball and the relationships he made within the Mavericks will always remain one of his all-time loves. Johnston says he’s thrilled to see his boys have gone to the NBA Finals, and in a prediction to CBS 11 he said he thinks they’ll go all the way.

You can see The Ray Johnston Band perform live at the Dallas House of Blues on June 11th. Click here for ticket information.

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