'The Michael Jordan of wheelchair basketball' has returned
At 39, Patrick Anderson’s comeback is all about getting Canada back on Paralympic podium
Patrick Anderson dipsy doodles around the basketball court in his wheelchair during a recent friendly match against Japan at the Pan Am Centre in Scarborough, Ont. He dekes around opponents, changes speeds on a dime, shoots the ball from practically anywhere and hits nothing but net.
Kady Dandeneau, who plays on Canada's national women's wheelchair basketball team, watches Anderson from the sidelines in awe.
"He has been called the Michael Jordan of wheelchair basketball which says a lot about his talent, work ethic and achievements," Dandeneau says.
She adds, "The guy can shoot the lights out. He's got a ton of speed. He's just all all-around amazing player.
Anderson helped Canada win the Paralympic gold medal in 2000, 2004, as well as silver in 2008. The fact he is back on the court with the Canadian men's wheelchair basketball team is welcome news.
The team has struggled since Anderson took time off after a highlight-reel performance at the London 2012 Paralympics, where he helped Canada win another gold medal.
After those Games, Anderson moved to Brooklyn, N.Y., to follow his other passion — making music with his wife Anna. They have a band together called the Lay Awakes.
They also started a family and now have two young children. But Anderson continued to play basketball for fun. Before the 2016 Paralympics in Rio, Anderson came back to mentor and play against the Canadian team.
When he saw some of the special talent coming up, he decided to come out retirement.
"When I was playing against these guys, I just saw a lot of potential," he says. "I saw guys who were really ready to make a splash internationally.
WATCH | Patrick Anderson's crazy ball skills:
One more shot
He was worried about not giving 100 per cent effort to his fledgling music career. But after talking to his wife, he decided to give basketball one more shot.
"I realize music is something we continue to do and improve beyond 50, whereas my window for basketball was small.
It remains a long shot that Anderson will be able to get Canada back on the podium in Tokyo in 2020. The team finished a disappointing 12th at the 2018 world championship in Hamburg, Germany.
But Anderson attributes that to the team not aiming high enough and not believing in themselves. He's hoping to help Canada qualify for the Games by finishing in the top three at the Parapan American Games this August in Lima.
Overcoming obstacles that might stop others in their tracks is nothing new.
Anderson grew up in Fergus, Ont., and played ice hockey and other sports as a child.
When he was nine, he was run over by a drunk driver and lost both his legs below the knee.
At 11, he started playing wheelchair basketball and did other activities that helped him develop into the special player he is today.
"Away from the game, I was always chasing my friends around town," he says. "I come from Fergus, a town with a river in the middle and hills on either side. I was going up and down hills and trying to keep up with the able-bodied kids who were running around. I was trying to chase them in my chair."
One other big thing that helped him develop his unique talent came courtesy of his father.
"My dad built me a basket in the backyard on a deck that I could wheel on. I'd shoot around on my legs, on my knees in my chair on my basketball chair, my day chair. I always had a basketball in my hands. I wouldn't have thought that I was training. But essentially that is what I was doing."
Anderson says he had great coaching from the beginning and having a long wing span, with long arms and short legs, gives him a built-in advantage.
But his body is now 39, an age when many athletes are in decline.
Anderson prefers to look at the exceptions to the rule including sporting greats like 41-year-old NFL quarterback Tom Brady and tennis star Roger Federer (37).
"To be honest, I draw inspiration from those guys. I've been a big Federer fan for a long time. He is a little younger than me but [he's] in such a gruelling sport," he says. "You don't see guys playing at that level at that age, and Brady, I'm not a huge football fan but I'll tune in when he's playing for the same reason. I think people are rewriting the book on what can be done in your late 30s early 40s."
That's not to say Anderson didn't have doubts about how his body would react.
"I have been pleasantly surprised. The more work I put in, some of the stuff I could do in my 20's — some of it is coming back."
One of the 20 something up-and-coming members of Team Canada Liam Hickey is impressed.
"He is relentless. He's the smartest basketball player I've ever seen," Hickey adds, "He's also the hardest worker. He's the best player in the world and he's still putting all this work into the small details."