EAST LANDSING, Mich. - The grace his daughter displayed throughout her nationally publicized battle with cancer came through in this text message from Matt Holsworth today: "Continue her legacy! Love unconditionally."
The tragedy of the passing late Tuesday of 8-year-old Lacey Holsworth of St. Johns, Mich., came through in the trembling voice of ESPN's Dick Vitale, who vowed between sobs to raise $250,000 in her name.
"I can't believe it," said Vitale, the former U-D and Detroit Pistons coach. "This rips my heart out, man. … I'm gonna get that money if I have to give it myself."
The impact ever-smiling Lacey had on people in her brief time came through in a daylong stream of tweets and tributes, with Michigan State students planning to paint the rock on campus this evening in her honor. The most heartfelt came from inside the MSU men's basketball family, which welcomed her as forward Adreian Payne became an honorary Holsworth in the past couple years.
"I mean, a week and a half ago, she's with the team, in New York, sitting in the film room, going through everything she was going through," MSU coach Tom Izzo said of Lacey. "All that pain -- and she's got a smile from ear to ear."
Matt Holsworth texted today that Lacey passed away "in our arms at home peacefully. She is happy and pain-free now."
She is survived by her parents, Matt and Heather, and brothers Will, Mitchell and Luke. The family announced her passing early today with the following post on Instagram: "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"
A memorial service for Lacey is tentatively planned for April 17 at Breslin Center, though details were still being worked out as of this afternoon, MSU spokesman Matt Larson said.
In the meantime, words of support are coming from from all corners of the Big Ten and beyond. The MSU baseball team had a moment of silence before its home game today, the MSU softball team had "Play 4 Lacey" wristbands and athletic director Mark Hollis said in a statement that Lacey "captured the hearts of many people throughout our state and nation."
College athletes and coaches helped Lacey "trend" today on Twitter. Members of the Golden State Warriors, the team of former Spartan Draymond Green, tweeted condolences. A website set up recently by Okemos High grad Jeff Martin to help the family with medical costs, https://www.giveforward.com/fundraiser/vp44/-kissitcancer, blew past its goal of $75,000 today.
ESPN's Jay Bilas, who is followed on Twitter by nearly 700,000 people and recently made Lacey the first person he follows, tweeted: "RIP Lacey Holsworth. A beautiful soul, whose strength and courage touched and inspired us all. Heartbreaking."
Late this afternoon, Payne's silence ended when MSU released the following statement from him: "Words can't express how much I already miss Lacey. 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."
Payne was just in Texas with Lacey last week - her cheering him during a college dunk contest and helping him judge a high school dunk contest - and their relationship was a case of mutual, cherished support.
She chose him when the Spartans visited her in January of 2012 in Sparrow Hospital, about a month after a tumor had wrapped around her then 6-year-old spine, temporarily robbing her of the ability to walk. This was about five months after Payne's grandmother Mary Lewis, who raised him, passed away in Jefferson Township, Ohio.
It was about eight years after his mother, Gloria Lewis, died in his arms in the wake of an asthma attack.
"And now this," Izzo said today.
Izzo and Payne knew time was short earlier in the week, and Izzo said they spoke this morning.
"Even though he knew this was inevitable, it's hard," Izzo said of Payne. "But he took it with the class and dignity that she taught him. I told him, 'Not everybody gets to touch somebody's life like you have. And sometimes other people impact your life, too.'"
That relationship was featured this spring on "The Today Show" and "Good Morning America," after Payne carried Lacey onto the Breslin floor during his senior night ceremony, then brought her with him up the ladder to snip the nets and celebrate a Big Ten tournament championship win over Michigan on March 16 in Indianapolis.
Through it all, despite ongoing radiation treatments and growing tumors in various parts of her body - the disease returned in November after a few hopeful months away - Lacey smiled. She was a dancer who reveled in her moments of normalcy, tweeting about them with the hashtag: #kissitcancer.
"I refuse to be a victim," she tweeted on Feb. 13. "No matter what I've been through, I'm still here. I have a history of victory."
"It's amazing, the things she understands about life, about people," Matt Holsworth said at the time of Lacey's personality and tweets. "She's an old soul."
Payne once called his relationship with Lacey "a gift from God," and Izzo said of her influence on him: "I'm supposed to be a guy who leads men, and now an 8-year-old has impacted my life like this."
He heard Vitale's tearful voice on the phone, too, after Vitale heard the news and called Matt Holsworth. Vitale invited the Holsworths, Payne and Izzo to Sarasota, Fla., last May to take part in his annual gala to raise money for cancer research.
Lacey was the star that night of an event that has raised $10.7 million in eight years. Vitale said he will start raising the $250,000 in Lacey's name at dickvitaleonline.com after speaking with Matt Holsworth.
"I told him, 'Matt, we can't save Lacey but maybe we can save someone else,'" said Vitale, who spent part of last week's Final Four festivities visiting cancer-stricken kids at Dallas Children's Hospital.
"And we're worried about basketball," Vitale said. "Cancer sucks … this should not be happening to kids like Lacey -- she had a smile that was worth a million dollars. I'll never forget her."