Little known hoops hero Melvin Juette

Melvin Juette lost his ability to walk in a gang-related shooting in Chicago, but his basketball career was just beginning.

Melvin Juette lost his ability to walk in a gang-related shooting in Chicago, but his basketball career was just beginning.

The NBA has already seen plenty of highlights and exciting plot lines, ranging from the Boston Celtics’ emphatic answer to the question of whether they would have a letdown  after they won their 17th championship to equally decisive responses about whether LeBron James and Chris Paul are the best player and point guard in the game, respectively.

Hoops junkies looking for an unusual fix should consider reading Melvin Juette’s memoir, Wheelchair Warrior: Gangs, Disability and Basketball.

For those of us in the Chicago area, Melvin is a local boy who came up on the South Side.  He grew up in an intact two-family home, but started to run the streets during his teen years. 

A bullet shot during a dispute between two other young men ripped through Juette’s spinal cord when he was just 16 years old.  While he was not killed, he would never walk again.

Despite this devastating loss, Juette says that his paralysis was both the “best and worst thing that happened.”  In addition to keeping him alive and out of prison, Juette’s participation in wheelchair basketball is a major factor in his paralysis being the best thing that happened to him.

He has had a distinguished career. 

From not initially knowing what to do on the court, Juette quickly dedicated himself to the game and saw significant success.  Eventually, Juette played for the U.S. National Wheelchair Basketball team in many tournaments, winning gold on numerous occasions.

The books is slight, but powerful.  People unfamiliar with wheelchair basketball will recognize the same passion they see in a college basketball game while reading Juette’s description. 

He also talks forthrightly about social challengese with women, the politics of interracial dating and marriage-Juette is black, while his first and second wives have both beenn black-the difficulties he encountered in school, the need he felt to leave Chicago in order to reach his potential and the bitter disappointment he felt falling just short of the gold medal twice in the Paralympic Games.

Juette writes very much as if he speaks, which allows the reader to feel as if he is part of a conversation.  His story is sandwiched by introductory and summary comments by social professor Ronald Berger.  Berger’s essays frame Juette’s experience in more academic terms than Juette’s straightforward language.

The book has some weak points 

Juette’s account is a bit sparse in talking about his and other family member’ gang involvement, and, while the book is long in honesty in many areas, it is a bit thin on reflection and emotional insight.   The contrast between Juette and Berger’s writing style  also can be a bit jarring.

These flaws are not fatal, though.  For people who love hoops, disability or both, Wheelchair Warrior is informative, inspirational and worth the time.

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