POSING RECENTLY for a picture at Madison Square Garden, they made an odd couple: Charlie Villanueva, a 6'10" forward for the Bucks, and Alex Fabozzi, a 16-year-old who attends St. John's Villa High on Staten Island, N.Y. The two do, however, have an abiding connection: Both suffer from alopecia areata. "Charlie understands me in a way even my best friends can't," says Fabozzi (near right). "He knows what I'm going through."
Alopecia is a congenital, autoimmune skin disease that causes hair loss, usually on the scalp and sometimes over the entire body. There is no effective treatment. Villanueva learned he had developed alopecia at 11, an age when appearance can seem as important as intelligence or athletic ability. "Kids said some mean things," says Villanueva, 23, who grew up in Queens, N.Y. "Horrible things. I had to block them out."
Seeking an outlet for his frustrations, Villanueva latched on to basketball. "Pretty soon people stopped saying, 'Look at the bald kid,'" he recalls. "They said, 'Look at that kid who can play.'" Through his Charlie's Angels program, Villanueva will meet with children who have alopecia before 14 Bucks road games this season. He plans to donate $1 million to the nonprofit National Alopecia Areata Foundation when he signs a new contract in 2008. "What Charlie is doing for these kids is unbelievable," says Diane Fabozzi, Alex's mother. "They see what he has accomplished, and they know that they can do the same. It's amazing."