Spokespeople: Wheelchair Basketball Stars

Jonathan Zeller

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If you haven’t seen topflight wheelchair basketball before, just imagine what would happen if the NBA met NASCAR.

"The second you walk into the gym, you hear high-speed collisions and smell burning rubber from the players’ wheels," says Jeff Mohl of the New York City Sports Commission. He knows what he’s talking about: the Sports Commission organizes the Mayor’s Cup Wheelchair Basketball Tournament presented by the Barclays/Nets Community Alliance—one of the nation’s top wheelchair-basketball events. This year’s installment will take place October 8–10 at Manhattan College’s Draddy Gymnasium.

"Players often flip over in their wheelchairs as they jostle for position," Mohl continues, "but they pop back up afterwards as if nothing happened." And the intense competition demands world-class athletes. "If you think it’s hard hitting a three-point shot with a hand in your face, imagine how tough it is to hit a three-point shot with a hand in your face from a moving wheelchair," says Mohl.

When we spoke to him in advance of last year’s tournament, John Hamre, president of the Wheelchair Sports Federation (an organization that promotes the health benefits of adaptive sports), offered a thorough scouting report, starting with veteran Edy Lopez, who plays for the New York Rollin’ Knicks: "Big guy, big hands, can post up, can shoot three-pointers and very competitive." Then Hamre moved on to describe a promising young gun, Dylan Levine of the Bulova Nets. Just 17, Levine had been scouted by college coaches, and Hamre predicted that he’d "probably go to a Division I program on a scholarship." His hunch was correct—the multi-talented Levine won’t participate in the 2010 tournament, as he’s attending the University of Arizona on a tennis scholarship.

This might sound like typical pre-game scouting for any basketball tournament—but whatever challenges these players face on the court, they’ve overcome far greater adversity in just reaching the gym. Lopez is a Navy veteran and an amputee who lost his leg to cancer about two decades ago; Levine battles a painful bone disease called fibrous dysplasia.
 
  Spectator admission to the Mayor’s Cup is free, and the game is a fast-paced, entertaining affair. "There’s not really a pivot foot—[players] never stop with the ball," explains Hamre, noting just one of the differences between wheelchair basketball and the on-foot game. "That throws people sometimes when they’re watching."

The event is certainly worth attending on its own terms, like many other NYC sports happenings. But it’s also valuable for the role it plays in motivating men and women who might otherwise stay inactive. "This is a great example of a tournament where people do come out, see it and enjoy it, and they want to learn and participate," says Hamre, lamenting the most common reasons that disabled athletes often take too long to join in: "One, they’re depressed; and two, they’re scared."

The Mayor’s Cup is part of his effort to change that. As such, he practically insisted on having his phone number in this article: "Put my number everywhere—I’d be happy if it gets [potential athletes] off their couches."

So here is Hamre’s number, which you should call if you want to get started in adaptive sports: 917-519-2622. You can also reach Hamre by email at info@wheelchairsportsfederation.org. Email is the best way to inquire about volunteering at an event or donating to the organization.

For more information about the Mayor’s Cup Wheelchair Basketball Tournament presented by the Barclays/Nets Community Alliance, contact Jeff Mohl at 212-484-5410 or jmohl@nycgo.com.


The tournament schedule is as follows (unless otherwise noted, all games are at Manhattan College’s Draddy Gymnasium):

  Friday, October 8
  5pm
  New York Knicks vs. New York Nets, Court 1
  Bulova Nets vs. Nassau County Kings, Court 2

6:30pm
  NEPVA Celtics vs. Bay State Clippers, Court 1
  Connecticut Spokebenders vs. New England Blazers, Court 2

8pm
  Team and Media Welcome Dinner featuring Matthew Sapolin, Court 3

  Saturday, October 9
  8:30am
  Bulova Nets vs. New England Blazers, Court 1
  Junior Team Canada vs. Nassau County Kings, Court 2

10am
  Junior Team Canada vs. Connecticut Spokebenders, Court 1
New York Knicks vs. Bay State Clippers, Court 2

10am
  New York Nets vs. NEPVA Celtics, Court 1, Horace Mann High School
 
  11:30am
  Connecticut Spokebenders vs. Bulova Nets, Court 1
New York Knicks vs. Rochester Wheels, Court 2

11:30am
  New England Blazers vs. Nassau County Kings, Court 1, Horace Mann High School  
  Bay State Clippers vs. New York Nets, Court 2, Horace Mann High School
 
  1pm
  Rochester Wheels vs. NEPVA Celtics, Court 1
Bulova Nets vs. Junior Team Canada, Court 2

2:30pm
  Nassau County Kings vs. Connecticut Spokebenders, Court 1
Junior Team Canada vs. New England Blazers, Court 2

4pm
  NEPVA Celtics vs. New York Knicks, Court 1
New York Nets vs. Rochester Wheels, Court 2

5:30pm
Rochester Wheels vs. Bay State Clippers, Court 1

Sunday, October 10: Playoffs and Championship Game
9am
  Semifinal, Court 1
  Semifinal, Court 2
 
  10:30am
  Championship, Court 1
  Consolation, Court 2

 


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