Former NBA Coach of the Year Compares Wheelchair NBA Player to Karl Malone

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griffinSALT LAKE CITY, UT — While the start of the 2014 NBA Playoffs mark the end of another marathon of a regular season, the eyes of the nation were just focused on Massachusetts as the country honored the departed from last year’s bombings in Boston and celebrated its survivors.

The more than 200 surviving runners and spectators from the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings are adapting to their new lives with a variety of prosthetic limbs, crutches, wheelchairs and rehabilitation; all of which will help to forge that bridge back to independence.

One of the concrete pillars of that Independence Bridge will be something that usually only lives on the fringe of the subconscious minds of mainstream America and it’s sports fans—the world of Adaptive Sports.
Adaptive Sports are something that we intuitively know exist, but unless one of these athletes is a friend or family member, we don’t often have cause to consider it in the landscape of daily life. These sports have modified the rules of most of the sports we know and love (basketballtennissoccerhockey, track & field, etc.) to include severely injured, amputee and chair-bound athletes.

A former NBA Coach & Executive of the Year, Frank Layden (Utah Jazz—1984), wants to promote Adaptive Sports and the athletes who participate in them; with an emphasis on the players from the wheelchair division of the NBA.

“I think Adaptive Sports and wheelchair basketball are what sports are about,” Layden says. “More people in America need to know about it and we can learn a lot from it. Sports are for anyone. Women, men, color, nationality … whatever it might be. The thing is, you always go in and compete to the best of you ability.”
Layden also points out that the rules of sports have been adapted for other life stages as well.
“There’s leagues for men over 60 and there’s no fast breaks allowed and we accommodate them. For little kids, sometimes we lower the baskets and we make the courts smaller. We have some rules for women and other rules for men,” Layden says. ”Sports will accomodate you, but one thing: when you walk out on that floor, you gotta give it back by being a fierce competitor and doing the best you can.”
franklaydenPeople unfamiliar with the sport of wheelchair basketball are usually intrigued when they come across the wheelchair players, as was Layden, a Brooklyn native, when he first saw them in the Big Apple.

“I saw it with the wheelchair players in Madison Square Garden in New York—people are curious,” Layden says.

“They’re not necessarily fans, they’re not sure this is basketball. But what happens is that people go and watch them play and I think it impacts their lives tremendously.
“Most people will say, ‘Wow, look what they can do,’” Layden continues. “These [players] go out and make an impression on people and people walk away saying, ‘You know what, I’ve got to make my life better. I’ve got to get tougher. I’ve got to live better. Because I look at these guys and think how lucky I am. I’m blessed. So, I’ve got to move on and do better.’ I know I felt that way.”

In order to help promote Adaptive Sports and wheelchair basketball, Layden has narrated an audio book titled Doin’ Hard Work, featuring a name even the most die-hard NBA fans won’t recognize from NBA rosters—unless you are a fan of the wheelchair division of the NBA; that name is Jeff Griffin, of the Utah Wheelin’ Jazz.

Griffin is a US Paralympian, an eight-time Wheelin’ All Star and won his 4th Wheelin’ All Star MVP as part of the 2014 NBA All Star Weekend in New Orleans; at the little publicized Wheelin’ All Star Classic.
18 years ago, Griffin ruptured the L1 vertebrae in his spine and broke his back in three places when he fell more than 40 feet while painting a barn. He has not been able to walk since.
“There’s a card I carry around with me,” Layden adds, “by Brian Piccolo that says: ‘You can’t quit, it’s a league rule.’
“I look at what these fellas have to go through and getting up in the morning is not easy for them … what do they look forward to? Fortunately they’ve chosen to have basketball,” Layden says. “I think it would be easy to feel sorry for yourself. We didn’t see any of that in this story. All we saw was a competitive spirit and great respect for one another for what they were all going through … it’s wonderful to see these young athletes not give up because they appear to be handicapped. They don’t let that stand in their way.
“They have a setback … a disadvantage, but they compete at the highest level…and we must take our hats off to that and there’s got to be a place for that because they are inspirational to all of us.”
Layden has coached at all levels; from junior high and high school, to college and the pros and is very familiar with Griffin’s basketball skills.

I’m going to compare Griffin to someone who might surprise you,” says Layden, “someone that we all know and have respect for and that’s Karl Malone (NBA Hall of Fame 2010).” Layden should know as he drafted Malone (and John Stockton – NBA Hall of Fame 2009) into the NBA in early 1980′s.

First of all, Griffin’s a bruiser, he plays hard and we all know that about Karl Malone. But, Griffin also gets in the face of his teammates if they don’t produce. He’ll get after them in the locker room or in a time out, just like Karl used to do … [Karl] was a fierce competitor, everybody knew it and if he was yelling at you, it was to make us all better.”

Layden narrated the Doin’ Hard Work audio book to help educate the mainstream public about severely injured Americans like Griffin.
The story takes a behind-the-scenes peek at Griffin and his Wheelin’ Jazz teammates when they drove 1500 miles, in one weekend (SLC-LA-SLC), to compete in the wheelchair basketball division at the Nike 3 on 3 tournament.
The team left on a Friday, slept at a campground to save money on hotels, played Saturday and Sunday and returned home in time for work on Monday morning.
“They’re so skilled, they’re so tough, they play the game very well, [are] fundamentally sound and they have fun doing it. We realize that it’s tough and yet they do it,” Layden says. “Training is tough, playing is tough because they maybe don’t get the support financially that they should, but I think that the more people see it on TV, film and with more tournaments…that there’s a bright future for it.”
Proceeds from the $10 audio book, available at, benefit the Just Don’t Quit (JDQ) Foundation’s Adaptive Sports program (; whose mission provides equipment, uniforms, sports camps and more for amputee and wheelchair athletes.

When Griffin’s injury happened, doctor’s told Griffin that he wouldn’t walk again. “I don’t believe them,” Griffin said.

What the doctors declared to be a medical impossibility, Griffin has turned into a reachable dream by regaining feeling in parts of his legs and can now actually move around with the aid of crutches. Griffin credits his love of sports, his competitive athletic activity and belief in God with helping him in his on-going recovery from the accident.

“I’ve been able to take a few steps on my own and get out of my chair and I believe wheelchair sports has allowed me to stay active and stay healthy and try to rehab,” Griffin says.

“What wheelchair basketball means to me is an opportunity to compete,” adds Griffin. “I was an athlete before I got hurt, I was a wide-receiver at a college … so when I broke my back, you know, I thought ‘What can I do now? How can I compete? How can I get out there and do what I love and have a passion for?’ I discovered wheelchair sports and wheelchair basketball is an opportunity for me to feel like one of the guys.

“A wheelchair does not define somebody,” Griffin says. “A wheelchair just gets you from Point A to Point B. The heart and desire in any athlete; whether you have legs, whether you don’t have legs, it’s the heart of a champion. And if somebody has that heart and they’re in a wheelchair, you’re going to go out there and compete and you’re an athlete.”

Griffin says he wants to give a message to the survivors of last year’s Boston Marathon.
“I want them to know that there’s something out there for them to compete in, to excel at, to just go out and discover. It needs to get out there, that we can still compete, that we can still get out there and have fun. You’ve got to have a dream and you’ve gotta go for it.
“Everybody is good enough to accomplish their dreams and goals,” Griffin says, “if they pay the price and Just Don’t Quit.”

In the final analysis, Layden says that something was added to these men’s lives by having access to wheelchair basketball.

“There’s probably a lot of people in wheelchairs who probably sit back and feel sorry for themselves … I can’t blame them for that, I don’t know how they feel. I don’t live my life in a wheelchair.

“But I see these [Wheelin' Jazz] guys saying ‘It’s not going to get me down. I love basketball. I love competition and I’m going to go out and do everything I can to go out and compete and have fun doing it.”

The Doin’ Hard Work audio book is the first part of a promotional campaign to inspire social change and will ultimately culminate with the release of a film version of the project.

Schayes: In the NBA, Sometimes You Can Go Home Again

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Last week, stars Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett played a road game. But not just any road game. Pierce Garnett

It was perhaps the most significant road game of their careers.

The future Hall of Famers returned for the first time to basketball-bonkers Boston, the city where they won hearts and championships. The former Celtics were given a warm welcome that included video tributes and had an emotional evening.

In this era of free agency, many players have a similar experience. They move from a place where they have been a fixture and get to return to their previous home for the first time.

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Schayes: Pardon Me, But Miami-Indiana Meant Next to Nothing

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Today’s big story is last night’s game between the Pacers and Heat for early bragging/validation rights.

And the boss was not happy with what went down at the end, with the officials swallowing their whistles as LeBron clearly fouled Paul George on a game-tying 3-point attempt by Paul George just before the final buzzer. The Joey Crawford conspiracy theories will only continue to grow from here.

Those are the only viable teams with a chance of winning the Eastern Conference, and the media needs something to talk about for the next four months. The Omer Asik stuff gets old after a while, you know?

So this game becomes a massive story (even though it’s not) about a building rivalry (LeBron James just said there are no real rivalries anymore) to determine dominance in the conference (it’s really just another game).

Who wins is very important to the media. But as I stated in an earlier column about “statement games,” it doesn’t mean squat come playoff time.

I think the bigger issue is that with six months to go until the NBA Finals, so many teams are out of it. In the East, only two of 15 teams have a chance of reaching the Finals. Barring a series of catastrophic injuries, it will be Indiana vs. Miami in the conference finals.

Schayes: Coaches are Hired to be Fired, But This is Ridiculous

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lionelhollinsEvery professional sport lives by the famous adage, “Coaches are hired to be fired.” It is well known that when things go south, it is the coach and not the players who get the blame and the ax.

In the NBA, with 15 players collectively making somewhere north of $60 million in salary and being almost impossible to replace, it is no wonder that the coach and his assistants are the usual fall guys for poor performance. Few jobs carry so much responsibility with such little real authority.

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Schayes: On NBA Coach of the Year, and Coaches in General

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220px-Erik_SpoelstraWith the NBA season winding down, award season is right around the corner. The Coach of the Year award this season is a very tight race.

I have a tremendous history with coaches. It started by growing up with an NBA Coach of the Year living across the hall from me for my entire childhood.

That helped me grow up to have an 18-year NBA career playing for 15 different coaches. And when you consider that I had one coach (Doug Moe) for eight of those years, that means that I went through 14 coaches in the other 10 years. I was not a coach-killer, but it does show the life expectancy of a coach is about the same as a fruit fly. 

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