How basketball saved my life

How basketball saved my life

'I loved the game that ended up loving me even more in the long run.'

By Justin Alliman for CBC Sports
January 8, 2020

I was eight years old and I had just moved to Scarborough from Ottawa.  I was scared.  This was a new neighborhood, new school and all-new friends. I was entering grade four and just looking to be accepted among my peers.

In Ottawa in the 90s, Hockey was the most prominent sport in the city, so naturally that’s the game I gravitated towards. I knew nothing about basketball. But the year was now 1998 and I was in a city on the outskirts of Toronto, where the Raptors had begun playing five years earlier.

Alliman's e autobiography describes his path to basketball happiness Alliman's e autobiography describes his path to basketball happiness

When I got to school in Scarborough, none of the kids were playing hockey, everyone was playing basketball. At this point in my young life I had never even touched a basketball before, let alone play the sport. I made friends with a couple of the boys in my class and when recess came they invited me to play basketball with them.  I was nervous.  This was my first opportunity to make new friends.  I didn’t want them to know that I had never played basketball.

I got out onto the playground, laced up my shoes and joined my classmates. Teams were picked and I was picked first. To this day, I still have no clue why. Maybe I just looked like I would be good. The game started, and I was on defense. I copied what I saw my classmates do and started shuffling beside the player that I was guarding.  I remember thinking “this is easy”.  Eventually, my team got a steal and we went on offense. The ball was passed around a few times and finally came to me.


I remember this moment in slow motion because what happened next changed the course of my life. I caught the ball and immediately rose up and threw the ball at the net from about 15 feet away. This was my first-ever jumpshot attempt. The ball hit the backboard and rolled around the rim for what seemed like an eternity before falling through the hoop. The feeling that went through my body after that, as my classmates and new friends cheered for me, was something I had never experienced before. Hockey was great, but in all my years of playing, it never made me feel that way. This was a new feeling. The feeling was love.


I tell people that basketball saved my life, and I mean it. Throughout my childhood, I moved around constantly.  I was the new kid at a different school every year. Basketball was the one thing that remained consistent.  Once I discovered my love for the game, it didn’t bother me as much when I moved, as long as I could still play. Basketball allowed me to be social and make friends. It taught me discipline.  If I wanted to be good, I had to put the time in and work on my craft. It taught me teamwork.  No matter how good you become, you can never do it on your own. It taught me about leadership, and how I can be a good influence among my peers. I learned to set goals and discovered how to execute them. And of course it taught me to dream big, which is what set me on my career path.

I am now a Global Basketball coordinator and entrepreneur, working for the National Basketball Association. I first got involved with the NBA in 2016, doing community relations with the Raptors 905, the development team for the Toronto Raptors organization. After a year, I went overseas and began working with NBA Asia as a Brand Ambassador and Lead Coach for the Jr. NBA. In 2018 I was approached by the Toronto Raptors organization, this time for an Assistant Coaching role with the Raptors 905.



When I was still a boy, I wrote in my binder that my goal was to make it to the NBA.   Twenty years later, I have done just that. I believed that one day I could make it there. The old saying is “shoot for the moon, even if you miss you’re still among the stars” and that’s exactly what I did. 

I made it to the NBA, just not as a player. I dreamt it, believed it and achieved it.

I grew up an orphan. There was little to no consistency in my life other than what I found through basketball.


I loved the game that ended up loving me even more in the long run.



The Justin Alliman edition

Q: The best book you've  read? 
A: Think and Grow Rich

Q: Must-listen podcast? 
A: Kobe Bryant "Detail"

Q: Best advice you ever received?
A: Pray for your blessings before you receive them

Q: If your life is a movie, what would it be called?
A: Before My Glory

Q: Word or phrase you over use? 
A: Simple

Q: Skill you wish you had? 
A: To go back in time   

Q: Something no one would guess about you? 
A: I love my alone time

Q: What scares you? 
A: Not maximizing my potential

Q: Who gets an invite to your ultimate influential dinner party?
A: Barack Obama/ Lebron James/ Magic Johnson/ Nipsey Hussle/ Tupac/ Gary Vee.

Q: What makes you cry, every time? 
A: Family

Q: Next goal?
A: Buying a home


Top large image: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Lahodynskyj

Middle large image:THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz

Bottom image:  courtesy Ifenna Okeke.

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