It’s a tough sell for Wright, 23. He had multiple sclerosis diagnosed in early 2012 while playing with Turkish team Olin Edirne. He has been adapting to life with the disease ever since, though he’ll tell you the tougher fight has been overcoming teams’ misconceptions about its potential impact on his basketball career.
His uncommon battle began with a move he had made thousands of times: a simple touch-the-baseline-and-turn move in the midst of a conditioning drill. Instead of a quick bend and pivot, Wright’s foot gave out and he slipped, though he thought nothing of it initially.
Then his right foot went numb. By the time he woke up for early shooting practice the next morning, his whole right leg and right arm were succumbing. Wright sought medical attention.
That’s when he received what his agent Doug Neustadt called the “shocking” diagnosis that he had multiple sclerosis.
Neither Wright nor Neustadt knew much about the disease, so Wright researched it thoroughly.
He learned that his condition was a disease of the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord) in which the protective coating that normally surrounds the nerves breaks down and leaves them vulnerable to damage. As more and more of this coating, myelin sheath, is destroyed, the nerves become more and more damaged. Nerve function deteriorates along with them, though at different rates and to different degrees in each patient.
With an eye on rebounding from the disease and making the NBA, he told only family and close friends about his condition in the hopes of avoiding any stigma from the league’s decision makers.
Then Eurobasket.com ran an article prematurely lamenting the end of his promising career after an MS diagnosis, and Wright’s secret was out.
“Once the article came out, it was like ‘Hey, this kid’s career is over,’ ” Wright said. “People were writing me off.”
“People” included the first three doctors Wright visited after returning to the United States. Then he found D.C. area neurologist Heidi Crayton.
Crayton “said she thought I would be able to play, that I would have no restrictions. Other doctors were saying I don’t think playing is in your best interest,” Wright said. “After she told me [I could play] I said, ‘Well, you’re going to be my doctor.’ ”
“I was actually pretty awestruck that he had been told [to hang it up],” Crayton said. “I said, ‘Of course you’re going to keep playing.’ He was in great shape. He had one minor episode.”
In fact, Wright said he hasn’t had another episode since that perilous pivot in Turkey. Crayton said part of her patient’s success is due to the aggressive approach they’re taking to his treatment, a preemptive strike with a highly potent MS drug called Tysabri.