A week before returning to Japan, my brother left for Italy. Now, many know my brother, Ian, but if you don't I should explain that he's a professional wheelchair basketball player. Right now, he's in Rome playing pro wheelchair ball like some kind of gladiator.
Before he left, we were sorting through all of the stuff he was leaving behind. I saw this hat and immediately requested to have it.
It's a special day for this artist, 25 years ago on November 6th, 1985, I was born. When I was 8, my brother had a basketball tournament somewhere in the boonies in Minnesota. It was also my birthday. So, my family took me to a Pizza Hut where we celebrated my birthday. I received a Transformers Generation 2 Tank Megatron. (Steve Lieber has some really funny stories about this toy) I loved it, but the real present was that I began my love of wheelchair basketball.
I was really lucky to have spent a few summers in the company of some of the most inspiring people that I'd ever met.
Now, we need to put aside all of that bullshit that people think about someone in a wheelchair overcoming a disability. That's not what this is about. That sympathy never helped anyone. This is about olympic level athletes and the influence they had on me.
When I was younger, I didn't have the skill to feel comfortable enough to begin drawing something that was so close to me. So, when I was older, I returned again briefly to do some sketching and drawing. Most of the first series is done in the University of Whitewater Wisconsin, the mecca of wheelchair basketball. Seriously, olympic level basketball is commonplace there. Everyday, 7 games.
The Whitewater Warhawks Wheelchair Basketball team practices in a gym called Roseman. I started drawings here to just get used to drawing wheelchairs and their equipment. This next wheelchair belongs to Matt Scott, who's now playing pro in Turkey.
I was super bummed when they told me that the only two days after I got there, that they would all be leaving for a Olympic training camp in Alabama. Well, it just wasn't meant to happen this time. I wasn't about to ask all of the players for an hour or so to do a drawing of each one. So, I went to as many practices as I could and did tons of sketching then.
I drew these little gesture guys while they were playing, and while they were making fun of me for not playing. Sometimes they wouldn't have even numbers and they'd get me to play. I am only decent at wheelchair basketball for about the first 10 minutes that I play, then my skinny noodle arms get tired and all I'm good for is blocking someone. That's not even skill, I'm just tall.
I also wear baseball batting gloves when I play. I get so much shit for that. I used to play often during the summer, but my hands became nothing but blisters. These guys don't even get blisters anymore. They have hands that could smack a gorilla and make him act right. The example that I tell people to demonstrate how important what it feels like to play wheelchair ball is this: You're biking downhill at 16mph and you decide to stop your tires, not with brakes, but with your hands.
So, everyone left for the Olympic training camp and I had a few more adventures in Wisconsin that I'll address later in the post. However, about a year later, I got to revisit drawing wheelchair basketball players. This time, it was with a team that my brother and his good friend, Mike Bauler, coached into multiple championships: The Minnesota Courage Center Rolling Timberwolves.
I drew this fellah, John, while he was subbing out during a scrimmage. I bet he was dying to get back into the game.
This next player, Guthrie, is a monster on the court. That super thick neck is no exaggeration. I kept looking back to the drawing and him just to make sure I wasn't misinterpreting the size of the neck. You basically have to cheat to stop this guy.
Ziggy! Again, drawn while on the bench during the scrimmage. I had seen him about a week before with a David Beckham looking mohawk. I was really looking forward to drawing it. Maybe next time...
I had played in a few pick up games at Courage Center with some of the older Minnesotan Basketball players and younger Rolling Wolves. Rose was luckily on my team. I was mocked one time about playing wheelchair ball, when my buddy, Jeremy Campbell, said that watching me play ball was like watching poetry in motion. Meaning, I'm not good at ball handling. (I'm a soccer player) It's true though. So, during the pick up games at Courage Center, I'd often dish the ball to Rose to finish what I couldn't and score us a bucket. I affectionately called her "Buckets."
I made most of these sketches in a sketchbook that I display at cons, so maybe a few of you have seen them. These sketches were made after everyone left for the Olympic training camp. I had gone to Madison with some friends and walked State Street and ate sushi.
While there, my brother and his two friends, Meah and Machiko, decided that, after I got back from the bathroom, it'd be funny to not speak to me the whole time. I kept asking, "What's so funny?" So, I drew what I thought of them. The next image is the layout of a room of a bar that I was in. I got a lot of shit for that too.
On the left side, is the famous Roseman water fountain. There is something honestly amazing about Roseman water. It's an amazing feat of human engineering that every other water fountain around it tastes terrible, but this tastes like spring water. Perhaps the best water that I've ever tasted. Ask around.
If you look at the drawing above and to the right and the drawings below, you'll see some drawings done by Jeremy Campbell and I. I had never know about the way that someone could write boy and draw a boy. I loved it. We continued on it the best 8th grade manner that we could below.
This leads me to the hat I'm wearing as I write this now. NWBA National Champions 2007. I wear this hat all the time, and it does make me feel like I have special powers. Whenever I put it on, I remember all of the times I spent with these boys. It also makes me think of my love for wheelchair basketball. It is a foundational love that I've had ever since I received Megatron for my 8th birthday at that Pizza Hut.
It is a huge source of inspiration to me and an example of how to live. On my birthday, I wanted to talk about how I approach my ideas and how they are born. I think, sometimes, you need a hand full of blisters to really get to something good.