Lacey Holsworth and Adreian Payne spent the past month capturing the heart of the nation during March Madness.
But the 8-year-old girl passed away, her family posted on Twitter and Instagram around 3 a.m. Wednesday.
"Princess Lacey has achieved the ultimate victory. She now dances among angels.... The world is a better place because you were in it. Our hearts are broken. We love you Doll. Dance all night... Mommy and Daddy, Will, Mitchell, and Luke #LoveLikeLacey."
Lacey, from St. Johns, Mich., was a frequent face at Michigan State basketball games and outside the locker room waiting to Payne following many of those.
"Words can't express how much I already miss Lacey," Payne said in a statement. "She is my sister, and will always be a part of my life. She taught me how to fight through everything with a smile on my face even when things were going wrong. I'm a better man because of her.
"She said she first liked me because of my smile, but it's her smile that made America fall in love with her.
"I know she's smiling and dancing in heaven right now. My princess is now an angel."
Lacey had been diagnosed with neuroblastoma about two years ago, which is when the Michigan State basketball team mad a visit to Sparrow Hospital in Lansing. She had a tumor in her abdomen and wrapped around her spine, which limited her ability to walk. The tumor ultimately went away and treatment rid her of the cancer, but it came back late last fall and had progressively worsened in recent weeks.
It was that visit to the hospital though that no one knew would lead to such a bond between Lacey and Payne. The pair quickly became friends after Lacey requested Payne stick around.
They exchanged phone numbers and the relationship continued to grow and she became part of his family and he often called her his "little sister." Lacey walked out with Payne on his senior night. She and her parents were in Indianapolis when Michigan State won the Big Ten Tournament, in New York for the NCAA Tournament and in Dallas as Payne took part in a dunk contest as part of the Final Four weekend.
During that time, the national media caught on to the heartwarming story of the relationship between Lacey and Payne to the point that she became the first – and only – person that ESPN analyst Jay Bilas follows on Twitter.
"We are all saddened today, but we are all better people for having known Lacey," Spartans coach Tom Izzo said. "Her smile and passion for life will live in the hearts of everyone she has touched across our country."
Lacey is survived by her father, Matt, mother, Heather, and her three brothers William, Mitchell and Luke.