Disability does not mean inability: on the basketball courts and in life

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“No matter what you go through, what situation you're put in, you continue to push through. And these kids and the other people here in wheelchairs are out here competing and having fun, working hard, and not making an excuse,” said two-time NBA All-Star Isaiah Thomas as he watched wheelchair basketball games at Hoopfest 2019 in Spokane, Washington.

We invited Isaiah to Hoopfest, the largest 3-on-3 outdoor basketball tournament in the world, to help promote disability awareness. We supported the disabilities division courts at Hoopfest and encouraged everyone to embrace the powerful and inclusive message that “disability does not mean inability.”

After inspiring—and being inspired by—wheelchair basketball participants with his words, Isaiah was ready to inspire everyone with his talent. After all, you don’t invite a two-time NBA All-Star to a basketball tournament without wanting to see him play.  

During the tournament, Guardian hosted a 1:1 game of H-O-R-S-E featuring Isaiah and Phillip Croft, a local wheelchair basketball and All-American track champion from ParaSport Spokane.

The game gathered a large crowd and was emceed by Dr. Feranmi Okanlami, a former Guardian customer who is now a spokesperson and advocate for those with disabilities. Dr. Okanlami joined the Guardian team to help spread our uplifting message about disability awareness.

The energy on the Spokane streets was magnetic, with many gathering to witness the power of how sports can bring people together regardless of what game they’re playing or if they play in a wheelchair or not.

To experience the perspective of wheelchair basketball players, Isaiah played his second game of H-O-R-S-E seated in a chair. He struggled with the first few shots.

“I play H-O-R-S-E with my kids all the time, but to play with Phillip and see how strong he is and how he can shoot from anywhere on the floor, it was amazing,” said Isaiah.

The game was very close, but the significance of the event was about much more than who came out on top. The game paid homage to an important message that, despite the situation someone may be in, their abilities do not define them.

Watching Phillip have fun and take on an NBA player was motivating, especially as Isaiah mentioned that he didn't take it easy on him. In that way, the game showcased how anyone can achieve anything if they set their mind to it.

While Phillip may have been intimidated by playing against an NBA All-Star at first, he made it clear to all gathered that “Just because your legs are not functional and you have a disability, doesn’t mean you aren’t capable of doing anything else. I can still go to college, get a job and live on my own. I might do things differently, but I still get things done.”

For Dr. Okanlami, that message resonates beyond the courts.

“This is an example in not just sports, but is something that can carry true in all of life: that disability is not inability,” he said.

For Guardian, it was an honor to support such a powerful message at Hoopfest 2019. We look forward to supporting the people who live by it every day!