It had been more than a year since Max Kuhns last saw his younger brother Nick.
It had been even longer since he’d seen him play basketball. Max Kuhns, 21, currently serves in the U.S. Army and earlier this month flew back to the United States from Qatar, Asia, after a nine-month deployment.
He had it all planned out. He would tell Nick that he was going to surprise their mom on Friday. Nick would plan it out. But instead Max had other plans. He was going to surprise his brother on Thursday instead at his Senior Night, the last home game of Nick’s high school basketball career at Garner Magnet High School. His mom and dad were both in on the plan.
During Senior Night, each senior on the team was recognized one by one with their parents, while some of their stats are read out by the announcer. The crowd claps and cheers.
When his brother and parents walked to half court to be recognized Max planned to walk out and surprise them.
“I’m really hoping he won’t be mad at me for lying to him,” Max Kuhns said with a laugh. “That’s the type of personality he has.”
Minutes before the plan was about to come to fruition, and Nick would be recognized, Max stood behind the gym door on the opposite side of the gym, nervous. Butterflies filled his stomach. His foot tapped and he patted his hand on his thigh.
“Nervous,” Max said. “Not going to lie. I don’t know what to expect, but I just want him to be happy. This is his moment. I want this moment to be about him and what he has earned.”
Nick and Max had always had a close bond growing up. They were competitive, but still close.
Their dad, Doug Kuhns, said Max was always the doting big brother. He said even in pictures when Nick was a baby, Max was standing next to him.
“They always played sports together, and always complimented each other and shared friends even though Max was four years older,” Doug Kuhns said. “They are a good team.”
Max remembers the first time Nick beat him at a game of basketball. He wasn’t quite happy about it at the time. Nick was in eighth grade and Max was in high school. He said he had an idea then that Nick might be better than him when they got older.
When asked how it felt for Nick to beat him that first time, Max smiled.
“It was pretty embarrassing at first, but you get used to it,” Max said. “And he kept growing. Now he is quite an athlete. But I expect him to. He’s a great kid.”
The basketball court is where they bonded.
Nick said the most important thing his brother taught him was to always care for his family.
When Max graduated from high school he went off to the military and was stationed in Fort Bliss, Texas. It was the first time he had been away from home for a long period of time. He was deployed twice, once for seven months, and his last deployment. It was tough for the family and Max.
The family could Skype with Max, but it wasn’t the same as having him at home.
“I think it was really difficult for (Nick) when he wanted advice or wanted to share his thoughts and feelings abou something and he wasn’t able to do that instantly with his brother,” Alison Kuhns, their mother, said. “He’d have to wait to Skype him. When you’re a teenager you want an instant response and he didn’t have that. She said the things that Nick would have wanted his older brother to see and the times he would have wanted to spend with him, couldn’t happen.
“And I think that made it difficult for him,” she said. “I think he learned a little about sacrifice.”
Nick Kuhns and his family were last in line to be recognized. His parents stood in line with him with smiles on their faces. They posed for pictures as a photographer stood by.
As the announcers called their named, they walked out to the middle of the court and waved to the crowd. A few seconds later, dressed in his army blue, Max walked out from the opposite side of the court.
Nick looked to the left and saw his brother coming. He looked confused. But he was happy. He started walking toward his brother and they hugged at half court.
“I was shocked,” Nick said. “It’s good to have him back home. I’ve missed him.”
The crowd screamed out and rose and gave them a standing ovation.
Tears came down their mother’s eyes.
“It was kind of like having all pieces of a puzzle put back together,” Alison Kuhns said. “It was like a complete picture.
That night, Nick scored 10 points. On the third possession of the game, Garner stole the ball and got out on a fast break. His teammate passed him the ball on the wing and he rose up for a three.
Swish. The ball went through the basket.
The crowd yelled, “Kuuuuhnnnnnns!”
Max pumped his fist.
“It was perfect,” Max said. “It couldn’t have gone any better.”