American Basketball Paralympic Athletes Find Professional Homes Abroad


TOKYO — Members of the USA Paralympic men’s team have spent their lives training hard playing wheelchair basketball.

A five-time member of the American team, Matt Scott played in Italy, Spain, Germany and Turkey. He will vouch for the density of the crowd in Turkey by making the following recommendations: a YouTube video The brawl between the fans at a match in Istanbul. Police came. They used tear gas.

Father of five, aged 1 to 9, Brian Bell goes abroad with his family for about eight months a year, then returns to Chicago to be with his wife’s relatives. Most recently, he joins four-time U.S. Paralympics Steve Serio and Michael Paye on the mighty RSV Lahn-Dill team in Wetzlar, Germany.

Some of its European competitors are surprised that the birthplace of the sport and the reigning Paralympic champion in the United States does not have a professional wheelchair league in the United States. of men and women the game.

“The whole world associates wheelchair basketball with America,” said Joe Bestwick, a member of the German Paralympic team that plays for Lahn-Dill. “They think it goes hand in hand, of course, because the NBA is the big league.”

Joshua Turek, 41, making his fourth Paralympic appearance for the United States, understands his home country’s limited sports palate. He was hardly surprised that he and his teammates had to become expatriates to continue playing the game they love at the highest level.

“Unfortunately, no,” said Turek, who played abroad for nearly 16 years. “The United States view of sports is very masculine. I think you’ve seen some of the struggles for the WNBA and most women’s sports. And I think a lot of times disability and adaptive sports fall into the same category.”

Many players in the WNBA go overseas to increase their income in the off-season, often getting deals that are far more valuable than their earnings in the US. planned to introduce it next year.

Some professional men’s teams in Europe have a woman on their roster, according to an arrangement based on the injury classification system used in Paralympic sports. The basketball classification scale starts from one point and goes up to 4.5 points for the players with the most limited functional capacity; The sum of the five players of a team on the court at any given time must not exceed 14.

In the men’s professional leagues, 1.5 points are deducted from a woman’s standings, allowing her team to build a slightly stronger roster around her than they would with a man classified at the same level.

Classified at 3.5 points, 25-year-old Rose Hollermann from the USA women’s team began playing for a Spanish team in the Canary Islands in 2019, shortly after graduating from the University of Texas at Arlington, which has one of the best in the country. The strongest wheelchair basketball programs.

Living in an apartment that the team paid for, close to the Atlantic Ocean, he thought he would play there for a year at Las Palmas. He said he would then return home to “start and settle in a career.”

This plan did not last long. Fans hugged Hollermann and cheered “Rosa Maria” or “Rosemary”. His Spanish got to the point where he didn’t always trust the interpreter at the meeting. And he saw the possibility of a career in basketball.

“I realized that this is something I love so much, and I don’t know when I’ll be willing to give it up,” Hollermann said.

Playing professionally has become very important for men in the Paralympics. Players say the experience cannot be replicated, even in a top amateur organization like the top division of the National Wheelchair Basketball Association, which includes the New York Rollin’ Knicks. They would still have to work, leaving less time to play basketball.

So the Americans left the house. According to several players, the payout varies greatly depending on the country and the caliber of the players. But the top Paralympic athletes in Europe can earn a salary of between 45,000 and 60,000 euros, or about 53,000 to 70,000 dollars, for about eight months of work, often with the team paying for housing and perhaps a car.

At the Paralympics, loyalties must be redrawn, at least temporarily.

In Tokyo last week, the US and Germany met in the first round, with Bestwick on one side and Paye, the best man at Bestwick’s wedding, on the other. They played together for Lahn-Dill under Nicolai Zeltinger, who coached the German Paralympic team.

Paye, who married a German woman and has no plans to live in the US again, said I’ve probably played half of their squad right now at some point in my career.

Scott had 10 critical assists in a tense 58-55 American victory, and on the final bell, Germany’s Andre Bienek called him in for a punch in the back. The two were teammates at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, another college with a famous wheelchair basketball program.

“As a five-time Paralympic athlete, I know all these guys,” Scott said. “Someone is on the field, I played against them. I know what they had for breakfast. I know who your cousins ​​are.”

He said he wondered if the fact that so many Americans were playing abroad was reducing the team’s advantages.

“You saw how strong the German national team is,” Scott said. “The vast majority of our players have played there and they are developing the game for other countries and that sometimes takes away from ours.”

Turek sees the same changes and watches the evolution of the game with appreciation.

For years, he said, the most effective wheelchair basketball lineup was the heaviest with, for example, two big players classified as 4.5, then 3, then two 1-s. Over the past decade, he said, the US has taken a more balanced approach that produces an up-tempo game with an emphasis on outside kick.

“We don’t play these huge guys,” Turek said, “but we’re really good at one to five. And basically everybody in the world has now become our system.”

But can the USA be turned into a home for professional wheelchair basketball?

Bestwick did not want to speculate on why the sport was not making further progress in the United States, as he did not play regularly in the country. But he had a clear idea of ​​what was needed to create a successful league.

“Germany sees wheelchair basketball as a professional sport, but it is also a disability sport. But disability is not the main focus,” he said. “The main focus is that it’s aggressive, it’s fast, it’s dynamic and it’s very inclusive.”


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