In the darkest moments, when even great memories are hard to bear, character is what remains and stands above everything else.
“You can find triumph in tragedy. It’s important to realize that even though you go through hard things in life, you can be positive through them. And yes, they are going to be trying and they are going to be difficult, but they can also be for our good, they can refine us and make us who we are,” said former Dallas Mavericks player, Shawn Bradley.
Who Shawn Bradley is, is a former Dallas Mavericks star, who, at 7 feet, 6 inches tall, even in a league filled with giants, stood head and shoulders above the rest and willingly took their best shot.
“One of the things I’m proud of, the good fans say, ‘Shawn you didn’t back away from anybody.’ If Shaq was going to dunk on you, sometimes you blocked it, a lot of times you didn’t. But I tried to block everything and if I got dunked on I got dunked on, but if I blocked it, even better.”
Grit and a never surrender attitude that has become even more important in Bradley’s post-basketball life.
After an accident, his world changed in an instant.
“I went from being a pro athlete and loving playing basketball and being active with Carrie and the kids to suddenly in a second not being able to do 90% of what we love doing in life,” Bradley said.
On Jan. 20, 2021, only about 100 yards from his home in St. George, Utah, Shawn was riding his bicycle when a vehicle hit him from behind.
“The impact wasn’t a big deal but I was pushed into a parked car. That’s where I don’t remember what happened next.”
“We rode down the block to the site and it didn’t process even for weeks. I’m cleaning up his bike and it looked normal except his handlebar had fallen off. By the time I got to the hospital, they had him in surgery within an hour. It was unbelievable,” Shawn’s wife, Carrie Cannon Bradley said.
Unbelievable and unprecedented. Shawn had suffered a spinal cord injury that left him paralyzed from the chest down and, because of his size, had doctors searching for answers about how to properly treat what is believed to be the largest spinal cord injury ever on record.
“There are only 30 people in the world who are 7’6″ or taller, so someone having this level of injury and paralysis at my size could very possibly be the first ever,” Bradley said.
“The rehabilitation part of it and really even the ICU once I was out of that surgery, the beds aren’t long enough, they had to rig things at the end of the bed, it was custom from the beginning because what do we do?”
What Shawn and his wife, Carrie, did was proactively emphasize attitude, faith and positivity, prioritizing seemingly small victories that, in actuality, represented enormous progress.
“The other day it was as simple as leaning forward and trying to open a door facing it instead of to the side and you would’ve thought I just won a championship. Because it was a big deal. We look at those seemingly insignificant and little things that really aren’t that little because we’re learning every day new things and how to do new things. I put this shirt on today the best I’ve ever put a shirt on by myself. Usually, I need help but only needed a little tiny help today. But that’s a big deal to me, that’s a big deal for us.”
“We wouldn’t have met certain people we’ve met, we wouldn’t have gone through things and places without the accident. We started taking selfies and I’m up to 100,000 selfies of amazing stories and people we’ve met. On the hard days, we look back and say ours could be worse, or remember this happy time?” Carrie said.
Happy times that help as he faces the physical toll of rehabilitation, which he attends multiple times a week, but also assist in the equally challenging mental and emotional strain of his new circumstance, the heartache that contributed to Shawn waiting more than a year before finally being able to bring himself to again watch the Dallas Mavericks play the game he loves in-person, taking in a game in the American Airlines Center in 2022 from his new perspective and new reality.
“Coming here to Dallas and watching those games, I just have to say it was exponentially emotional. It wasn’t a ‘Woe is me. I’m sad I can’t do this anymore.’ It was that I was excited to see the guys play, to see old friends and competitors,” Bradley said.
And while watching basketball again was a big step in his emotional recovery, and focusing on what he and his wife described as a “Candyland positive attitude” has produced real results, the reality of the situation remains: life is now more difficult for Shawn Bradley as he continues to learn how to navigate through his new circumstance, hoping his character and never surrender attitude is standing head and shoulders above those challenges, while still remembering back to when he once towered above the competition in the NBA.
“When I dream, I’m never in a chair — I wake up saying that was a good experience, but now I have to deal with it.”
Shawn Bradley and his family are now in the process of moving from Utah to Dallas full-time.
He says the Mavericks organization has been a great resource for his therapy and rehabilitation, and he hopes his story inspires others going through difficult times to remain positive.