NWBA 2014 Championship Recap – by: Thomas Elliott
Within moments of entering the building one could easily sense the excitement of the athletes. In the arena lobby, a female player, likely in her teens, was passing a random male player that was probably in his forties, they exchanged acknowledgements and then discussed the status of their teams; he was from Michigan and his team had lost, she was from (inaudible), her team had won its games and they were advancing in play. They bid each other well and continued to their destinations. As you proceed through the doors to the arena where there is some inordinate number of basketball courts neatly aligned covering as far as the eyes could see. There were ballers of all different backgrounds at play: a girls team in green, a boy’s team in blue, a men’s team in gray, a co-ed team in blue. There were all the familiar sounds of intensity: grunts during a strong move, shouted directives to rebound following a shot, “Wolf, Wolf, Wolf”, and coaching from a fan overly invested in the game “Move to the ball!”, “hands up, hands up”, “FOUL ref!”.
I walked the perimeter of the courts with Jenn; each game fully equipped with players hustling and a fan base intent on showing their support. During a quick stop, a co-ed boys and girls team game caught my attention. Sponsorships covered the back of their jerseys in white and “Recc N Crew” boldly covered the front. Number 15 was their baller; probably about 17 years old, court vision, stern yet calm look and a pure shooter within 16 feet. He often had the ball and was determined to make sure his defense was never questioned. They had a big man that had perfected his post up on the block and would fully extend his right arm and hand when he knew his defender had no chance. Their opponent was a team led by a kid about 14 years old, pesky defender type, wearing #2; his tanned complexion, dark hair and short yet slightly stocky frame was involved in nearly every play. He was their guard. Quick, zippy, fast paced. He was a perfect combination of John Stockton and John Starks, with the personality to match. His efforts were plentiful and he made certain that everyone knew he was playing. On more than one occasion, he was preventing a fast break by blocking and defending the substantially larger big man mentioned earlier. He and Number 15 were natural enemies. The justification for the Recc N Crew’s extensive sponsorship became apparent minutes into the game. They had well organized and executed plays, they exploited their strengths, they were effective on both ends of the floor. #2 and his team were quickly at a deficit, but that didn’t keep him from making his presence felt….especially to Number 15.
It was a great environment. Over the next couple of hours I would learn about the process of developing the organization and its regulations. The league follows NCAA rules with regards to play metrics (traveling, 5-seconds in the lane rule, 3 pointer boundaries, etc) and stringent academic standards for their scholar athletes. The league ranks their athletes using a points system and this ranking ensures that play is fair. Individual ranking is determined by the player’s ability to complete various functional tasks including cervical/truncal rotation and range of their hip flexion. These tests coupled with other functional assessments allow the players to be given a points ranking between 1 and 4.5. During competitive play each team is allowed a sum of 14 points on the court at a given time.
The evening was capped by an impromptu meeting with the league’s commissioner, “Buddy.” Buddy is your All-American, middle aged, tall, salt and pepper haired former collegiate player. He shared the story of how he was introduced to the league through his father who was a former league player. Buddy shared that as he grew older, he too was a former player for the league. He spoke proudly of this year’s event, thanked us for coming out and was then pulled away to attend to happenings of the championship. In summary, it was amazing event, great competitiveness and a perfect environment to learn about the athletes and organization of the National Wheelchair Basketball Association.