If you were born in the 90’s like me you’ve probably never heard of Landon Turner. He never made a clutch play in the Finals. He doesn’t have a cool nickname. He actually never played in an NBA game. Hell, Landon Turner doesn’t even have a Wikipedia or Basketball Reference page.
That’s because Turner, star teammate of Isiah Thomas at Indiana, was paralyzed from the chest down by a car accident shortly after winning the 1981 NCAA Championship. After months in the hospital Turner went back to school but his NBA dreams appeared to be shot. But in another legendary move, 32 years ago today, Red Auerbach drafted Turner in the 10th round of the 1982 NBA Draft (yes, the draft had ten rounds back then, but most players drafted after round seven never made it past the first tryout).
The story of how this came to be is heartwarming as well. Auerbach claims that he and coach Bill Fitch were observing a per-draft camp for NBA prospects ran by Bob Knight, Landon Turner’s coach at Indiana. Knight and Auerbach both agreed, in what must have been one of the most interesting basketball conversations ever, that if Turner never got in the accident he would’ve likely been player of the year his senior year and a top five pick in the draft. Scouts at the time called Turner an outstanding athlete. He could run the break like few big men before him.
So Auerbach and Fitch told Knight, right then and there, that the Celtics would draft Turner. Turner received the news as he sat in a wheelchair at his Indianapolis home. As legend has it, Turner then called Auerbach and asked the iconic coach and GM, “When do I report for tryout?”
Turner ended up playing for the Pacers wheelchair basketball team for a few years. From there he went on to successful career in public speaking and education, addressing disability awareness.
Leave it Red Auerbach and Bob Knight, two men with reputations of being very stern and serious, to pull off this classy move. Here’s a 20/20 segment from the early 90’s about Turner featuring some insight from his coach (Knight) and teammate (Thomas).