The National Basketball Association, which might I add in no way resembles the NBA of my youth, had certainly gotten its fair share of bad press lately. Not to mention the continual criticism of LeBron James, who just can’t catch a break no matter what he says or does., but last Thursday night the league, if only for a moment, got it right.
During last week’s 2014 NBA Draft, new league commissioner Adam Silver approached the podium in a moment between the night’s 15th and 16th picks and announced, “The NBA selects Isaiah Austin.” The moment quickly became emotional, sentimental, and as is the buzz word of these times, trending on Twitter.
If you don’t know why that moment was necessary, then you should know the story of Isaiah Austin. Austin is 20 years old, 7-feet tall, and until the last few weeks, one heckuva basketball player. He had designs on an NBA career, but those dreams came to a shattering halt when recently Austin was diagnosed with Marfan Syndrome, a tissue disorder that for some miraculous reason hadn’t killed him already. The disease has no known cure and for Austin to survive now, he has to discontinue all athletic activity.
Think about that for a second. A 20-year old talented athlete with a lucrative basketball career ahead of him has his entire life changed in a heartbeat, dreams swept away with a doctor’s diagnosis. When Austin got the news from his family, he did what any of us would do-he cried, but he didn’t cry for long. Within minutes, he had composed himself and was telling all of his younger siblings that they need not be afraid. In other words, he dusted himself off and got right back in the game, the game of life.
We’ve all had tragedies or events in our lives that have totally changed everything we would do from that point forward. It is how we react to those events that helps define us as a person.Sit around feeling sorry or as Austin did, get right back into the game of life. How would you handle the news that the only way you could continue to live was to forever give up the one thing that you love to do the most and have skills beyond many others? This is not like someone giving up cigarettes.
If you watched last week’s NBA draft, you saw dozens of young men walk up on a stage to shake hands with the commissioner, knowing that handshake meant that right around the corner was more money than they had ever dreamed of. For Austin, that handshake meant his basketball career was officially over.
“We knew we wanted to do something to allow his dream to come true,” Commissioner Silver told cbssports.com. “He’s a special young man.”
What also was revealed with Austin’s diagnosis was that he had been playing the game blind in one eye because he had a detached retina. Still he was projected as a first-round pick before the diagnosis. I have seen Austin play and must say that was a pretty good effort for just one eye, but the 7-footer continues to set an example for others not only with this disease but any other life-threatening condition.
“I was blessed to play this game for as long as I did,” Austin said in a recent interview. “I’m just really thankful. God has truly blessed me. he could have let me continue to let me play basketball, but instead he chose to save my life.” Wow, powerful thoughts there.
Marfan Syndrome is not a disease that many of us are familiar with. The disease’s website (www.marfan.org) says that 1 in 5,000 people have the disease, including men and women of all races and ethnic groups, which means it it a disease that chooses no favorites. The website also says that it is very important for people with Marfan to get accurate early diagnosis and treatment. Did Austin’s diagnosis come soon enough? Are his symptoms already advanced beyond a very dangerous stage? Only the future will answer those questions for this outstanding young man.
In the meantime, Austin is making the best of a bad situation. He can finish his degree at Baylor and has an invitation on the table to work with the NBA at some time. ESPN has offered him an analyst’s job and he has even put some thought into coaching back at Baylor, if the NCAA allows it. That’s one ball the NCAA better not drop!
I spent a lot of time in the office this week looking for information on Austin and reading everything I could find about what happened last week to change his life forever. As a writer, the hardest parts of any story are the beginning and the end. You have to have a beginning that captures the reader’s attention and an ending that aptly sums up your work. To end this column, I am going to just borrow Austin’s words from a Twitter feed that led me to a great story by Matt Norlander, College Basketball writer for CBS Sports. To Norlander, Austin said this:
“The past couple of dasy have really taught me a lot about myself. They’ve really shown me that no matter what obstacle life throws at you, there is always a way around it or through it. For the rest of my life I am going to keep a positive attitude and never take anything for granted, because it can be ripped away from you in seconds.
Wise words from a wise young man.