Life After 7’6″: Shawn Bradley, Paralyzed in a Bike Crash, Knows ‘It’ll Never Be the Same’

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In a suite high above the court in Dallas, Shawn Bradley peered down on a past life. Under the spotlight below, gangly giants—Kristaps Porziņģis, Boban Marjanović, Bol Bol—galloped and grinded as their 7’6″ forebear watched, still and silent. As the 7’2″ Bol used his long arms to swat a shot, Bradley’s wife, Carrie, fetched him popcorn and nestled a small Styrofoam bowlful onto his napkin-covered stomach. The 7’4″ Marjanović sprinted back on defense and gulped down air; Bradley started to feel faint and reclined his electric wheelchair to raise his blood pressure. The 7’3″ Porziņģis powered home a two-handed dunk; Bradley enveloped a can of Dr. Pepper in his claw-like hands and sipped carefully.

On May 20, 2005, Bradley took his last steps on the Mavs’ home court. Retiring at 33, the No. 2 pick in the 1993 NBA draft never reached the potential his height portended, although he was a daunting, dependable defender. After 12 pro seasons, he had to confront a life devoid of basketball. On Jan. 20, 2021, at 48, Bradley took his last steps, period. He’s now confronting a life devoid of so much more.

In the third quarter of that Nov. 15 game at the American Airlines Center—the first Bradley attended after being paralyzed from the chest down in a bicycle crash—Dallas’s vice president of basketball operations, Michael Finley, visited the suite. Finley and Bradley were foundational pieces of the team’s early-2000s ascendance, arriving just before Steve Nash and Dirk Nowitzki, so it was no surprise that Finley was the first to reach out with a text when news of the crash became public: Prayers are with you, big fella.


Kohjiro Kinno/Sports Illustrated



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