March 19, 2013

Multiple sclerosis doesn’t define Mavericks guard Wright

With his 10-day NBA contract about to expire, Chris Wright is using his historic opportunity to encourage others with MS.

DALLAS – An innocent slip of the foot turned into a life-changing experience for Chris Wright.

That slip, which occurred last March while Wright was playing basketball in Turkey, ultimately led to the 6-1 point guard discovering that he was suffering from multiple sclerosis, a disease which impacts the brain and spinal cord when the protective sheaths around the nerves are damaged.

"I was in practice running sprints and at the end of practice I went down to touch the line and came up and I slipped,’’ Wright said. "My foot gave out and I thought nothing of it.

"I thought I just slipped, but eventually it got worse and I had numbness in my right foot, and then it started the next month to progress to the whole right side of my body. I lost basically all sensation, and I went to the doctor and that’s when they diagnosed me with MS.’’

From there, Wright became involved with a web of doctors that, while some were sympathetic to his situation, others shrugged and told him he would never play basketball again. But being a Christian, Wright knew his future didn’t lie in the hands of a physician.

Thus, Wright and his family prayed and prayed -- and prayed some more. Now, with his keen sense of awareness back, Wright became the first known person with MS to participate in the NBA after he signed a 10-day contract with the Dallas Mavericks last Wednesday.

And as fate would have it, Wright’s promotion from the Iowa Energy of the D-League to the Mavericks came during MS Awareness Week.

"Everything kind of happened at the right time,’’ Wright said. "It’s not a coincidence that I got called up during MS week, and I played during MS week, and I had my family with me when I got called up all during MS week.

"That’s why you believe in a higher authority. And God blessed me, so I feel great.’’

Because of HIPAA laws, the Mavericks can’t discuss what treatments they’re giving Wright or say anything pertinent about his medical condition. However, Wright said he takes a drug called Tysabri, and that he’s never had a relapse.

"It’s an IV injection I take once a month,’’ Wright said. "It’s about a two-hour process and it’s something I have to do for the rest of my life.’’

As Wright’s situation evolved, the Mavericks (32-39) -- they host the Brooklyn Nets (39-28) at 7 tonight at American Airlines Center -- are not only intrigued by his basketball skills. They’re also touched by his overwhelming journey in dealing with MS, of which there is no known cure.

"It’s amazing that he’s able to fight through it and be healthy and still play professional basketball,’’ forward Dirk Nowitzki said. "That’s a great story and I think everybody’s happy for him.

"It’s inspirational, so hopefully he’ll be OK for a long time. He seems like a really relaxed and cool dude, and we wish him the best and hopefully he can succeed.’’

Coach Rick Carlisle agreed with Nowitzki, saying: "I’m very impressed with him as a person, as an athlete he has high energy, he’s very strong. You can tell he’s got dynamic athletic capabilities, and his skill is really good.

"He’s a good prospect and I like the fact that we’ve given him an opportunity with his condition that he has – it’s unprecedented. His story is inspirational for people that have that condition.’’

The more Wright has studied and learned about MS, the more he desires to be one of the mouthpieces for the disease. Wright knows millions of people look up to professional athletes and views them as role models.

Therefore, Wright doesn’t mind being a spokesman for MS, especially if he can help raise awareness, plus help raise the necessary funds to perhaps find a cure for a disease that causes the nerves in the central nervous system to degenerate.

"It’s a blessing to be here and I just feel honored just to give MS a voice and just to be inspirational to so many people,’’ Wright said. "That’s been my goal since I knew I had MS and knowing that no one in the NBA has it.

"It’s a big platform for me and it’s something that I definitely cherish. One of my goals was to get here and to finally be on an NBA team, and to just show people with MS and give people hope that they can do what they want.’’

Dr. Timothy Coetzee, chief research officer at the National MS Society, also praised Wright.

“We support and encourage Chris Wright as he continues to pursue his NBA dreams and thank him for his honesty about living with MS and for his help in bringing awareness to the disease,” Coetzee said in an email. “He has dramatically exemplified that though having a chronic illness may have its own special challenges, it doesn’t have to define who you are as an individual.

“Chris Wright’s openness about his MS provides encouragement to all those who are diagnosed with MS that they too can and should continue to push the envelope and pursue their own personal goals, dreams and ideals. We hope it also provides encouragement to employers across the nation to focus on what an individual with MS can do and not speculate on what might or might not occur down the road in some mythical future.”

Owner Mark Cuban is backing Wright all the way in whatever goals he aspire to obtain. But he wants to let the masses know that Wright’s disease didn’t impact the Mavericks’ decision to sign him to a contract.

"It was all about his basketball skills,’’ Cuban said. "He can play, and that’s why he’s here.

"He’s obviously overcome some things, but that really didn’t figure into anything at all. He’s a great representative for people with MS, I know he takes pride in that role, but he’s still got to make his way on his performance, and that’s the only way we judge him.’’

After a solid career at Georgetown from 2007-‘11, Wright was not chosen in the 2011 NBA Draft. But he eventually played in Turkey in 2011, was on the New Orleans’ Hornets preseason squad in 2012, and played 38 games with the Iowa Energy – he averaged 15.5 points and seven assists – before the Mavericks signed him up last week.

After he was originally diagnosed with MS, Wright, 23, couldn’t just pack his bags and come home.

"I had to get cortisone shots for about 10 days before I could travel back home, because I really wasn’t able to walk and I wasn’t able to do too much on my own,’’ Wright said. "The cortisone shots kind of relieved the pain so I could start getting back on my feet again, and then I came back home.

"Then I took about two-and-a-half months off from playing just to get myself together and figure out what medicine I was going to use and figure out how I was going to go about things, because a few doctors told me that I wouldn’t be able to play again. So once I did that, I got back on my feet and started the process.’’

Wright isn’t alone on the sports platform. Josh Harding of the National Hockey League’s Minnesota Wild and famous mountain climber Wendy Booker also have MS.

“MS symptoms are so varied and skills sets so diverse among people diagnosed with the disease that it is impossible to speculate what someone with MS can or cannot do, particularly with the support of the host of disease modifying therapies currently on the market,” Coetzee said.

Wright’s epic process reached a climax last Friday against Cleveland when Wright scored 2 points while playing the final precious seconds in the Mavericks’ 96-86 victory. For the kid with the engaging personality, it was as if he had just drained the series-clinching jumper in Game 7 of the NBA Finals.

"It was a great experience and it was a dream come true,’’ Wright said. "I just wanted to go out there and just trust my instincts and play ball.’’

Just the mere idea of being able to walk again without any resistance has been a milestone for Wright. His trust, he said, is in the Lord.

"Everything that’s come with this so far has been a blessing,’’ Wright said. "I didn’t know the impact that it would have.

"I knew I wasn’t going to shy away from my story, because my story is part of me, and I didn’t know the impact that it would have, but I’m glad that it’s inspirational to a lot of people. And I’m definitely going to get heavily involved with MS and try to bring as much awareness and notoriety to it as possible.’’

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