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How Basketball Brings Me Joy as a Person With a Disability

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When I was a child I fell in love with basketball. It wasn’t to the extent of my admiration for pro wrestling, but it was close. One of my childhood dreams was to be a professional basketball player. I would always mimic the perfect jump shot and envision myself doing slam dunks on a fast break. Now that I have to come to the realization that this isn’t possible I live my dreams vicariously through my brother Clay who plays outside and in rec centers, and NBA2K where I can dominate through virtual reality. The game has yet to touch me as deeply as it once did, probably because my favorite player Shaquille O’Neal has retired, but I still keep up with it albeit during the playoffs. Here is my story of a boy and basketball.

I started watching basketball in 1992, the same year I started watching wrestling and my sister was born. As with many Millennials, I fell in love with the grace and ability of Michael Jordan. However, Jordan retired (the first time) at the end of the 1992-1993 season and I had to find a new love. Enter Shaquille O’Neal. Shaq is the only man I’ve ever professed my love for in a non-platonic way. He was big and beautiful, funny yet dominant, silly yet serious. It was easy to love him. He was so energetic and enchanting and I loved the way he bulldozed past anyone in front of him. I thought for sure he was going to win the NBA Championship in 1994-1995, but the Orlando Magic lost to the Houston Rockets, which I consider my first traumatic experience as a child.

If you’re wondering what all of this has to do with my disability, it’s simple: I watched every game. I talked about Shaq every moment I was in therapy. Shaq Shaq Shaq! So when I began to feel self-conscious about my disability in junior high the fact that he won a championship that year (his first one) eased that burden. You could say my years as a teenager with a disability were intertwined with him. When he retired it felt like the end of an era and my march toward adulthood with a disability. I love you, Shaq!

When I was younger, around the same time I was obsessed with Shaq, I used to go to all the junior high basketball games and report the results. That gave me a sense of excitement and allowed me to interact with my peers so there was no intense stereotyping going on. The eighth grade team was really good — they ended up winning the junior high championship and it was a happy time. I announced all the basketball games, which allowed me a chance to interact with the girl ballplayers, encourage them and maybe boost my confidence a little bit in the romance department. I was not a pimply teenager by any means, but I was shy. I’m grateful for those years.

I’m not athletic; I even suck at wheelchair basketball. So my best option is to pretend I’m Russell Westbrook or Lebron James slashing through the lane by playing NBA2K. It’s also a good bonding experience for me and my brother Clay and my friends and my assistants who all want to play against me. Sometimes I win sometimes I lose, but I always compete!

My love for basketball has faded a little bit, but I still love the dunking of Lebron, the three point shooting of Steph Curry or just watching my brother play in the park. Whether I was dreaming of being a coach, playing on the court or just playing a basketball video game, basketball has always helped me roll through life’s hardest obstacles.

Getty image by Tuelik Za.

Originally published: October 28, 2018
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