Despite Career-Ending Marfan Syndrome, Isaiah Austin Chosen as NBA’s Best Pick; Baylor Player Says ‘God Has Truly Blessed Me’


Isaiah Austin was moved to tears by the gesture the NBA gave him Thursday. (USATSI)

The most memorable image of the 2014 NBA Draft went to the player who wasn’t chosen by any team, but instead was selected by the entire league.

Baylor’s Isaiah Austin was the best pick of the night and subject to one of the most memorable, sentimental draft events ever. Commissioner Adam Silver ushered an emotional, earned moment Thursday at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn when, between the 15th and 16th picks, Silver did something Austin, his high school coach and his family — all there sitting with him in the green room — had no idea was coming.

“The NBA selects: Isaiah Austin,” Silver said.

Thousands were already on their feet, giving Austin an ovation. The slender 7-footer donned a royal-blue NBA lid, dipped his head into his massive right palm for a few seconds, then made his startled way up to the stage. He was crying, and Silver almost was, too. Andrew Wiggins’ mother walked right to Isaiah’s and embraced her in a huge hug. Austin deserved that moment; it was an accomplishment, a climactic achievement that only six days ago he was hoping to experience.

But Austin didn’t have a remote clue it would or could be like this.

Whereas all other greetings between player and commissioner Thursday night inaugurated NBA careers, Austin’s handshake with Silver signaled the end of his basketball-playing life. He has been diagnosed with Marfan Syndrome, a connective-tissue disorder that went unrecognized all Austin’s life and very well could have killed him. Some of his cells aren’t fully developed. He has stretch marks across his body because of it. Austin’s aorta has been growing wider in the past two years. If it continues to expand, open-heart surgery will be mandatory. The disease has no cure, but the immediate cessation of aggressive athletic activity gives Austin a better chance at living a long life. This devastating development wasn’t even known a week before the draft.

Baylor coach Scott Drew was reached late Thursday night somewhere off the coast of Florida, heading on a cruise ship toward the Bahamas. He had booked the vacation long ago, and wished he could’ve been there for Austin in wake of the news. Drew said he welled up watching the proceedings unfold thousands of miles away, he sitting in his room with his family and seeing Austin overcome with emotion.

“The way they did it was just total class,” Drew said. “Anyone watching, if you didn’t have a tear in your eye, man, I don’t even know. Give the credit to Adam Silver and Greg Shaheen.”

It was Shaheen, the longtime head of the NCAA Tournament, who quietly helped orchestrate the tribute in the past 72 hours. Silver personally called Austin earlier in the week to invite him and ensure he experienced the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

“We knew we wanted to do something that would allow his dream to come true. He’s a special young man,” Silver told CBSSports.com. “And it was very difficult for me to maintain my composure up there. It’s sad that something that was such a big part of his life has been taken away, but he’s making the best of a bad situation. That’s the best kind of outlook on life. We’re proud of Isaiah.”

While the abrupt news of Austin’s diagnosis came as a shock, his health hurdles had become known in recent months. Austin was subject to one of the more surprising revelations of the college basketball season when he revealed he had been playing blind in one eye for some time due to a detached retina. Despite the hindrance, Austin remained a projected first-round pick. And a week ago today, the same day a worried doctor called a weeping mother, was the same day one team told Austin it was vowing to take him if he was available in the first round.

Cruel irony, but don’t tell that to Austin.

“To be blessed to play this game as long as I did, I’m just really thankful,” Austin said. “God has truly blessed me, because he could have let me continue to play basketball, but instead he saved my life.”

Click here to read more.

SOURCE: CBS Sports
Matt Norlander

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