NEW YORK — Isaiah Austin was projected to be a second round pick in this year’s draft, before being diagnosed with a medical condition that forced him to end his basketball career before it could professionally get started.
Austin was invited to the draft as a guest of commissioner Adam Silver, which would have been enough of a classy gesture in and of itself.
But the league went over the top in the way it handled Austin’s situation, by calling his name and having him don a draft cap and come to the podium as if he had been actually selected.
It was an extremely touching moment, and Austin’s remarks in the interview room a few minutes later were every bit as heart-wrenching.
“It’s been a really tough week for me, and it’s been really rough,” Austin said. “I’ve had a tremendous amount of support from everybody around the world really, telling me that they’re praying for me and everything. I can’t thank everybody enough. very single person that has reached out, I really give my gratitude to them. It was one of the greatest moments of my life, something I’ll never forget. I love this game of basketball so much. It’s really changed my life.
“To be blessed to play this game for as long as I did, I’m just thankful. I’ve really had time to sit down and think a little bit, and God has truly blessed me because he could have continued to let me play basketball, but instead, he saved my life.”
Those were powerful words from Austin, but things got even more devastating when he detailed the process by which he found out about his diagnosis.
“My parents originally found out the information the night before,” Austin said. “As soon as they heard, they packed up their bags, and my family drove nine hours from Kansas City to Dallas where I was at. I remember that morning I woke up early and was in the gym working out. I got shots up, and then later that afternoon I was at Mo Williams’ house. He had a barbecue; I work I work out at his gym, so I’ve gotten to know him pretty well.
“I remember I was driving home with my high school coach, Coach Ray, and we’re doing the same thing that we do all the time, laughing and joking around. As soon as we pulled up to the house, I just noticed a variety of cars, and I noticed a couple of them that I recognized.
“I remember asking him what was up, and he couldn’t even look at me.I remember walking through the door, there was 10, 15 people there — my Baylor coaching staff, my pastor, a couple of my close friends and my family. The first person’s face who I saw was my mother’s. She was all the way in the back. I just remember seeing tears falling down her eyes, my dad’s arms around her. I knew right then exactly what it was because I remembered in Chicago they said I could have had this syndrome, and they did blood work on it. I just hadn’t gotten the results back.
“I wanted to break down and cry, but I didn’t because my little brother and sister were in the room. I wanted to show them that I could be strong for them and for my family because they look up to me. Later that night, I just remember I couldn’t sleep. It was devastating.”
Austin has a promising future that includes job offers from the NBA and his former schools; it’s just one that won’t include his dream of playing professionally, which was almost within reach. He’s keeping a remarkably positive attitude through it all, however, and hearing his name called on draft night was a dream come true nonetheless.
“When you’re playing basketball and growing up and you’re at a competitive high level, and you’re being recruited highly and everybody’s saying that you have such potential, that’s your dream to be able to walk across that stage and hear your name called,” Austin said.
“When he did it, my head just dropped, because, you know, it was almost too much for me to handle. Fortunately, he did, and I’m thankful for it.”