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BY TOM MITSOFF
Who among us has not faced adversity in his or her life?
Such a person does not exist. Everyone faces challenges, and everyone has his or her own unique perspective on what represents adversity.
For Bill Gates, adversity might be the loss of half of his net worth, which would be a $17 billion loss. Someone working 8 to 5 for a living would view a remaining net worth of $17 billion as the opportunity of a lifetime rather than as an impediment.
German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche said, “That which does not kill me, makes me stronger.” A former college and pro basketball player, who most of our readers probably haven’t heard of, has faced adversity which, while not life-threatening, certainly threatened to kill his or anyone’s spirit.
What makes his story so compelling is the way he responded to numerous obstacles he encountered while trying to succeed in sports, in business and in life.
This player arrived on his college campus “full of myself” after a high school career in which he earned all-state honors. The proud son of a former Jackson, Tenn., sharecropper who moved north to Chicago for a better life, this player learned quickly that his new teammates, some who had been not merely all-state but actually All-Americans, were not impressed by his press clippings and swagger. In fact, one of his teammates, who arrived on campus after serving four years in the military and had “muscles in his ears,“ let this player know early on what the pecking order was.
Twice in one of this player’s first practices, the military veteran plowed through him on the way to get a rebound, knocking him flat to the floor -- quite a lesson in humility.
“I realized I was no match for his strength,” the player said. “I went back to my dorm room and cried myself to sleep.”
But he summoned up mental images of his father, who was “one step from slavery” and had the mental and emotional strength to move himself and his family to a better life. The player’s father eventually became a high school principal in Chicago.
After “not playing a lick” during his freshman year, the player went to his coach and asked for some playing time in game situations.
“All I wanted was one minute, because I knew that if I got one, I would turn it into two. Everyone has to start somewhere,” he said.
He got some minutes that year, and his team broke a long conference losing streak and eventually went to the “Sweet 16” of the NCAA tournament -- one of the final 16 teams left. The next year they made it to the “Elite 8,” with the player still in a supporting role.
In his senior year, with upperclassmen having graduated, he was ready to assume the role of one of the team’s leaders and stars. He prepared for the role by running and running and running to make sure he had stamina.
He told the team trainer that his foot was hurting prior to the opening game, and he was told to play the game and the foot would be x-rayed afterward. The foot examination took place before the game ended, because the player broke it during the game.
After surgery to graft bone from his hip into his foot, he told the trainer to tape his foot to the pedal of a stationary bike in the workout room.
“I don’t want my foot to fall off that pedal,” he told the trainer. “If my foot becomes disconnected from that pedal, I may become disconnected from my dreams, my future.”
Hard work again paid off. He was back in action after only six weeks, and came back with one of his best games, scoring 15 points.
And then he broke the foot again, ending his final college season several weeks early. But again he asked the trainer to tape his foot to the pedal of the stationary bike for more rehab.
With two injuries during his senior year, every NBA team bypassed him in the draft of college players. Eventually he was taken in the sixth round of the Continental Basketball Association (CBA) draft, the 99th player taken by pro basketball’s minor leagues -- not most players’ dream of glory.
He played well in the CBA, and that was his springboard to his pro basketball dream. He tried out for and made the Dallas Mavericks in 1993, and became the first free agent rookie to ever start the season as a starting player for Dallas. He also experienced the thrill of hearing his name announced as a starter after having been a bench player for most of his college career.
After a few stops with other NBA teams, as well as pro teams in Europe, Bond and his wife went into business for themselves. They bought a child development business.
“We had a very good lease, limited overhead, and I was an absentee owner playing (basketball) in Germany,” he said. But the building was sold and the new owner raised the rent from $1,200 to $4,000 per month.
“That was just too much for us to bear,” he said, so they decided to shut down the business. “It was one of the toughest things I’ve ever done. It was cut short before we were done.”
The couple broke the lease and thought they would be able to negotiate a settlement with the landlord. But the landlord knew the tenant was a former pro basketball player, so sued him for the entire $216,000 that was contractually due. The couple continued to hope that their landlord would be reasonable and negotiate. The player had given his signature as a personal guarantee.
Eventually the player told his attorney that if the landlord didn’t back down, they would have to file bankruptcy.
“We did that -- just last month,” the player said last week.
With that latest setback, the player turned his attention to motivational speaking as his primary vocation.
“I taped that phone to my ear, and called every business in town and every school in town (to gain speaking engagements),” he said. “My basketball career started from nothing, so I can beat this (bankruptcy) as well.”
The player’s name is Walter Bond, who played for the University of Minnesota in the late 1980s and early 1990s before an uneventful pro career. His motivational speaking career appears to be taking off, since his web site lists his speaking engagement fees at between $2,500 and $7,500.
“When you have a vision of what you want to accomplish, when obstacles are in your way, they can’t stop you,” he said.
Bond’s message has universal application. Had he given up upon meeting any of his obstacles, would he have been in a position to launch what appears to be a successful speaking career? Who knows? But a man who has had more than his share of disappointments didn’t allow any of them to stop him from his vision and his goals. His is a shining example of the way each life should be lived.
This column was written April 28, 2002, and published in several print and web publications across the country.
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