The National Wheelchair Basketball Association crowns three division champions at the national tournament in Wichita.
The Brooks Ballers went from nearly missing the 2020 Toyota National Wheelchair Basketball Association (NWBA) National Wheelchair Basketball Championships in Wichita, Kansas, to winning the Adult Division III title last Friday.
On Monday, March 9, team leadership learned that its corporate sponsor had pulled the team’s funding out of concerns that the team was at risk from the coronavirus.
So, the Ballers formulated a plan. The team set up a GoFundMe page, encouraging help from the Jacksonville, Fla., community. That quick thinking ultimately raised more than $20,000 in a 24-hour period. “Honestly, [to go from] losing our sponsorship, to us raising the money to then making it here. I felt like it was God testing us and then to be here and win … just, wow,” says Brooks Ballers coach Randy Pullings.
Five days later, on March 13, Brooks defeated the Rockford Chariots, 55-51, in the NWBA’s Adult Division III title game at Wichita Hoops in Bel Aire, Kansas, and Brooks’ Tim Houston was named the championship game’s Most Valuable Player. At age 16, Houston was the youngest player there.
Houston doesn’t live close to where the team practices, and there aren’t any junior wheelchair basketball league teams there. So, his family has to travel approximately 100 miles for every practice and game so he can play on Brooks’ team. Pullings says Houston wakes up at 5 a.m. to shoot hoops by himself and practice until he has to go to school around 7 a.m.
“It feels good,” Houston says. “Me and my team, we put in a lot of hard work. We got ourselves here, and now we’re going to take some trophies home.”
Two other trophies were also handed out.
In the Adult Division I championship, the Dallas Wheelchair Mavericks knocked off the defending champion New York Rollin’ Knicks, 80-72. Dallas’ Bobbie Nickleberry Jr., who was named the championship game’s MVP, was pleased how they stayed together – especially after losing three games to the Rollin’ Knicks this season.
“This season, we have been struggling to stay together, stay consistent and sustain the runs that other teams have put on us,” Nickleberry says. “We dropped three games to [the Rollin’ Knicks] this year, and we now see that it only takes one game to be a champion, and we got this one.”
And in the Division II championship, Florida’s Tampa Bay Strong Dogs defeated Houston’s TIRR Memorial Hermann Hotwheels, 58-50. The Strong Dogs’ Robert Gordon was named the tournament final MVP. Strong Dogs point guard John Cortez was in disbelief afterwards.
“Honestly, it’s kind of surreal,” Cortez says. “It still hasn’t all set in what we just accomplished. When we step in the gym for next season it will probably hit.”
The tournament was shortened to two days from three because of the coronavirus. Following last Thursday’s NWBA annual general meeting, the NWBA Board of Directors and general assembly of players, referees and coaches decided to consolidate the event after several teams dropped out from all three divisions. It’s not exactly what NWBA President Tim Fox wanted going into the 72nd annual NWBA tournament, but he says that they had to turn lemons into lemonade.
“We’re under very unique circumstances, but we’re pleased,” Fox says.
NWBA Chief Executive Officer Will Waller was pleased, granted the circumstances.
“We have an organization of people who have a lot of diversity and learn not to run from a lot of adversity. Many of them run to it to prove their merit and their grit,” Waller says. “With all the distractions going on, what is clear to me is that the court was their way to get away from all the drama and all the issues that were going on. When the clock started for the games, [the players] put on the type of performance that we expect to see from our wheelchair basketball athletes. It was an incredible performance and high, intense proficiency and scoring.”
For more on the 2020 NWBA Toyota Adult National Championships, visit nwba.org.