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Former NBA Forward Brian Grant Battles Parkinson's

By Anne M. Peterson

Brian Grant is afraid. Just 37 and three seasons removed from his NBA career, Grant has Parkinson's disease.

Fear is unfamiliar for the dreadlocked 6-foot-9 forward who played 12 seasons in the league and built a reputation for hard-nosed play after a ferocious battle against Karl Malone in the 1999 playoffs.

"I'd be lying if I said, 'Nah, I'm not scared. I'm going to face this thing head on,' " Grant said, his voice cracking and the weight of the diagnosis showing in his eyes.

"I am going to face it head on, but I still have fear. There are times when I'm scared of just losing control of me, you know? Not being able to control myself, and having to have someone take care of me."

Grant didn't take much notice about a year and half ago when his left hand would occasionally twitch. Settling into retirement, he figured his body was adjusting from the grind of the NBA.

But the twitching didn't go away. It grew more frequent and pronounced.

Grant was living in Miami — he'd had several good years playing for the Heat (2000-04), and he was trying to figure out what he was going to do with the rest of his life.

A first-round draft pick in 1994 out of Xavier, Grant played for five NBA teams. In the 2000-01 season, the Heat moved him from power forward to center after Alonzo Mourning developed a kidney illness, and he helped the team to 50 wins.

He averaged 10.5 points and 7.4 rebounds over his career before retiring in 2006 because of chronic knee problems.

Last fall Grant moved to the Portland area, his home when he played for the Trail Blazers from 1997 to 2000. He had high hopes of rejoining the Blazers in some capacity, perhaps, or breaking into broadcasting.

But his hand tremors held him back. While a doctor had written off the tremors as stress related, Grant and his wife, Gina, became increasingly worried.

It came to a head when Grant was invited to a Trail Blazers game during which the team honored former center Kevin Duckworth, who had died of a heart attack.

"When they announced for me to walk out there, it was hands-down — even more than the first game I played — the scariest moment of my life. I was so worried they were going to see, guys out there that I played with like Rafter Alston, people like that, that they were going to see and say, 'Man, what's wrong with his arm?' "

That experience led him to Dr. John Nutt, a neurologist at Oregon Health & Science University. After a series of tests, Grant was diagnosed in January.

About 1.5 million Americans have Parkinson's, which destroys brain cells that produce dopamine, a chemical key to the functions that control muscle movement. Patients suffer from increasingly severe tremors and periodically rigid limbs. They can have trouble walking, speaking and writing.

There is no cure.

Kevin Cook, a former assistant coach with the WNBA's Houston Comets and now head coach of the women's basketball team at Gallaudet University, was diagnosed with Parkinson's a year ago.

Cook says his challenges come because he uses sign language to communicate with his players. Gallaudet, located in Washington, D.C., is the nation's only liberal arts college for the deaf.

"I think it's a very courageous move on his (Grant's) part to share it with people, the battle with Parkinson's, and to be doing all the things he's doing to reach out to people," he said.

Grant first spoke about his Parkinson's in an interview with ESPN. He was stunned by the response. A Facebook page set up to track his battle was bombarded by well-wishers.

At his riverfront home outside Portland, Grant sat with Gina nestled against his arm. One of his sons, Jaydon, popped in and out of the room.

"I don't know if I'm in denial," Gina Grant said. "I tend to cling to whatever is in front of me that's positive and run with it. I guess I don't see the future as 'All right, this is what's going to happen to him, let's prepare now.' I don't know if that's denial or being extremely optimistic."

"It's day by day," she said. "Right now, it's the tremor. That's what's in front of us right now."

Grant has already had small victories. Combining diet and exercise with holistic therapies, the tremors are less pronounced. Four times a week, Grant lies in a hyperbaric chamber, which he says essentially simulates the pressure in a submarine.

He has not yet needed to start traditional drug therapy, but he realizes that time will come.

Meanwhile, Grant hopes to do something to help others with Parkinson's disease, but he's not sure what that will be.

Maybe Parkinson's has given him a purpose outside of basketball, he said.

"I'm an athlete. I've always been in control of me," he said. "Just to know that that's going to slowly be taken away from me — some people say that there's nothing I can do about it. There's others who say there's things I can do.

"So I'm going to go with the positive."

Copyright © 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Source Date: May 20 2009
Source Publication: Associated Press
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