Player denied NBA career by disease recognized at draft in moving gesture

Chants of “I-sai-ah,” calling in unison for former Baylor center Isaiah Austin, filled the Barclays Center Thursday night. It was a dream the NBA hopeful had just days earlier been told would never come true. 

But Austin's dream did come true, albeit under less than ideal circumstances, thanks to a heartfelt gesture by the NBA and commissioner Adam Silver.

Austin's basketball career ended last weekend with the diagnosis that he suffers from Marfan Syndrome, a genetic disorder that degenerates the connective tissue in the body and makes competitive sports potentially fatal. 

He was diagnosed just days before the draft and was completely unaware he had the condition while playing high school and college ball. Austin had been projected by most experts to be selected sometime early in the second round before his diagnosis.

Before the 16th pick, Silver paused to tell Austin's story and say that the NBA was symbolically drafting him. Austin donned a cap with an NBA logo and trotted on stage for a hug and photo with the commissioner, just like draft picks before and after him that night.

“It’s one of the biggest blessings of my life,” Austin said of being drafted. “When one door closes, God opens another one. I’m gonna dream again. I’m going to share my story with as many people as I can.”

Austin’s emotional moment — he was wiping away tears as he embraced Silver — was the highlight of the draft for many. The soft-spoken and thoughtful Austin has been offered a variety of jobs and internships by companies after news broke of his condition, including a coaching spot on the Baylor staff by former coach Scott Drew.

After the draft, Austin's agent revealed he had an insurance policy taken out against career-ending injury that was expected to payout as a result of the Marfan diagnosis. The agent did not quote a specific figure but multiple media reports said the policy was for at least $1 million.

It's not the first career-altering injury for Austin. He is blind is his right eye, the result of an injury he aggravated while playing basketball in middle school. Austin also suffered a 2013 shoulder injury that delayed his entry into the draft by a year.

Despite all the setbacks, and now permanent end to his playing career, Austin was insistent his love of basketball was not going anywhere.

“It’s my love and it’s my passion,” Austin said. “I just can’t thank God enough for my family and my friends (who) are backing me up with this.” 

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