By Andrew Bosworth
Have you ever asked yourself, ‘How does one play wheelchair basketball?’
The answer is, not very easily.
On Monday, February 24, two Israeli Paralympians came to The Leffell School to talk to students and athletes about how they ended up playing wheelchair basketball.
Lior Dror started playing basketball at the age of seven, but when he was 14, everything changed. Dror was on his way to a party with his family, when their car went over a pothole, resulting in a flat tire. While standing next to his car on the side of the road as his family fixed the tire, another car hit the same pothole and hurdled towards them. The car hit Dror, putting him in the hospital for three months and leaving him with a below-the-knee amputation. After this horrific accident, all that he could think about was how he wanted to “keep doing sports,” said Dror. “One of my dreams was to be a professional basketball player,” and he was not ready to give up that ambition just yet.
This could pose as a challenge given that, while today there are very few sports programs for the disabled, there were even fewer in the 1980s, especially in Israel.
Dror ended up playing competitive basketball for over 20 years, including in two Paralympic Games. His team finished in 6th place in 2008 at the Beijing Paralympic Games. Dror won eight European championships in wheelchair basketball. Dror also played in both German and Italian leagues before returning to his original club in Israel.
One aspect of the game that Dror truly adores is that “the politics don’t come in the door.,“ . He is able to play anywhere and everyone is treated the same, no matter personal beliefs, as they are all on one team.
At the age of 26, Asael Shabo is younger than Dror, so he does not yet have quite the same accomplishments, but he has still achieved a great deal.
Shabo lost his leg at the age of nine when a terrorist came into his house and murdered his mother and siblings. Shabo only managed to escape death by pretending that he, too, was dead. As a result of this attack, Shabo had to have his leg amputated, and he was in the hospital for two years. His hospital stay was extra long, as there were two grenades that went off near him in the hospital, spraying metal into Shabo. Even today, he still has parts of the metal inside his body.
After leaving the hospital, Shabo still wanted to remain active and he took up swimming, one of the most popular sports at the Israel Sports Center for the Disabled. He was able to master this sport and, when seeking a new challenge, he met Dror at the gym. Dror convinced him to start playing basketball.
Shabo wanted to lean into life and take advantage of being alive. As he said, “life keeps going.”.
Shabo went on to Germany, like Dror, in order to play in a professional basketball league, and in the summers he went back to Israel to volunteer at the Center which has given him so much. Shabo said that his goal, as well as the goal of the Center, is for “people with disabilities [to] integrate into society.” They both now play on the same team at the Center in Israel.
Given that wheelchair basketball is such an atypical sport, many questions can arise regarding its mechanics.
Is the wheelchair used in basketball different than a typical wheelchair?
The wheelchair for basketball is much different than an everyday chair. Each one is custom-fitted for the user. For basketball, the wheels do not have to be as narrow, so they are larger and slanted so as to be able to turn more quickly and move faster. There are also either one or two more small wheels on the back of the chair to prevent falling back if a player is pushed or stops suddenly. Also, there is a strap for the legs, so if a player falls, he can easily get back up, since he is physically attached to the chair. The final difference is that there is a large bumper so that if two chairs collide, which is a foul, the chairs do not get stuck together or caught in each other’s wheels.
How is wheelchair basketball played?
Dror and Shabo demonstrated and explained the rules in great depth. For the most part, all the regular rules of basketball are used, except for traveling, as the wheelchair may move when a player has the ball. Each player is allowed two pushes of the wheels before starting to dribble the ball, or else it is a turnover.
The most interesting aspect of the game is that while teams have players with various challenges, the two teams must be equal in the extent of disabilities. Each of the players is attributed a score based on their particular disabilities in order to create evenly matched teams. In addition, since there are not enough people for women to have their own league, they play with the men, although the score attributed to women’s disabilities is different from that of the men.
Both Dror and Shabo have overcome so much in their lives and have demonstrated that if you love doing something, you should never give up on that, no matter the circumstances.