Brian Grant: An Inspiration
The former NBA big man is determined to lead the fight against Parkinson’s disease.
Brian’s best friend, Raphael Saadiq, performed a number of songs for the crowd in his signature unique style. He had met Saadiq at a stop light in Sacramento during his rookie year. “I rolled up my bike and he was like, ‘What’s up, boss?’ A bond and deep friendship grew as they leaned on each other through tragedies and good times. Saadiq credits Brian for some of his musical enlightenment. If it weren’t for Brian’s urging, Saadiq claims he would have never had the chance to listen and appreciate Pink Floyd’s Dark side of the Moon. “A lot of people at the event didn’t know who Raph was when the night started, but they sure knew his name when it was all over,” Brian says proudly.
There was also a big contribution from a former NBA player who didn’t attend the gala. Karl Malone and Brian weren’t the best of friends during their memorable battles, especially after one of Malone’s infamous sharp elbows left Brian with a bloody gash over his eye during game five of the 1999 Western Conference semifinals. But when The Mailman found out about Brian’s gala, he volunteered to auction off a hunting trip to Alaska that he would attend, to the highest bidder.
“That trip with Karl Malone raised $100,000,” Grant says, happily. “We’re planning on four people joining us in Alaska sometime in June. I don’t know if Karl still reads SLAM, but hopefully he does because we’re looking forward to it.”
Brian’s subliminal message to Karl brings out some laughs within our group. “We were able to raise a lot of money,” he says. “We recently cut a check for $350,000 to Michael J. Fox’s foundation. Next year, the event will benefit my foundation.”
Moving forward, Brian hopes to develop an informative website that focuses on visuals and illustrations rather than complex readings about Parkinson’s. “Being an athlete, every time I had an injury, there was a solution,” he says. “It might be a two-year or six month solution, but it’s there. With Parkinson’s there was absolutely no solution.”
He plans on featuring conventional and natural medicines on the site that can help patients, as well as testimonials and exercise tips based on one’s body structure.
“I’ve met a lot of people who tell me they have a cure. Go here or go to Mexico or take this shot and you’re done. I think that’s the hardest thing about having Parkinson’s. You get all these people who think they have the answer. But it’s not something that is easy to cure.”
The majority of people who suffer from Parkinson’s are over the age of 60. Less than 20 percent of its victims are under the age of 40 according to medical experts. Brian maintains a regimen of exercise, healthy diet and vitamins and minerals to combat his symptoms.
It’s the night before Thanksgiving and even though Brian has friends and family around, I can tell it’s been a rough day for him. This time of year is about family and what Brian has gone through the past couple of years surely becomes magnified during the holidays. But he is content with the fact that his life has changed dramatically. He can live with it now.
“I definitely am more appreciative of everyday I have,” he explains. “Looking back, I used to complain about some of the dumbest things. Now I look at it like, ‘aight’. Although Parkinson’s is not a disease any of us wants, I will say that it has opened doors for me that I would have never had the opportunity to go through had I not gotten Parkinson’s. I feel like the best years are ahead of me, you know? I didn’t feel like that at first. I thought basketball was done, my family is done. But that was my focus. I was looking at the things that were done.”
Brian has shifted his energy toward helping others. “Sometimes you get into a stagnant place and wonder where you’re going to go from here. And right when you think things are going to slow down and that’s going to be it, something happens. You just need to wait around for it. God is always going to put it there. But it won’t be on your time. I think we all have problems with that—we want it today.”
He finishes his profound statement with a friendly smile and it feels like the right time to end our discussion. I thank him for inviting me into his West Linn home—for sharing his personal story with a complete stranger. He thanks me for making the drive down from Seattle and tells me that he hopes I can attend the second annual Shake It Till We Make It event this summer.
“I’ll be there,” I promise.
It’s photo time. Taking instruction from the photographer, I slide closer to Brian on the couch. He gives me a look. “Come on, man,” he says, laughing at our awkwardness. “We’re standing up.”
We rise. Brian wraps his long muscular arm around me, pulling me in close. He’s still strong—I can feel it. Chicken skin creeps in and the photographer is already in the viewfinder and I try really hard to look tough, but it’s too late and I can’t hold back my smile.
Brian Grant will have his jersey retired at Xavier University on January 22nd when the Musketeers meet Temple University. The second annual ‘Shake It Till We Make it’ charity event for Parkinson’s Disease Awareness and Education will be held on July 31st and August 1st 2011 in Portland. For more information please visit shakeittillwemakeit.com. Special thanks to Josh Abba of Sports Media World for helping us connect with Brian and to photographer Justin Tucker of Nine.80.Four Photography.