LOUISVILLE (Steve Goldberg's Wheel World) - As I write this column, I'm sitting courtside in Louisville, Kentucky where the Dallas Wheelchair Mavericks, the most successful team in the history of the National Wheelchair Basketball Association with 15 championship titles since 1997, is facing off in a semifinal against the Sacramento Kings.
The last time these teams met, at a tournament in San Diego last February, the game went to triple overtime with the Kings winning 114-110. That's why the Kings were the #2 seed to the Mavericks #3.
This is one of the marquis matchups of the 2018 National Wheelchair Basketball Tournament that features title competitions for some 1100 athletes on 96 teams in three junior and three adult divisions.
This long weekend began Thursday morning and will extend through Sunday. It encompasses far more than the competition. All of the games are being played under one roof at the Kentucky Exposition Center, a massive facility that is connected to Freedom Hall, the home court of the University of Louisville.
This allows the NWBA to bring the past, present and future of the game all together. The young kids get to watch the older kids, and they all get to watch the adults play, getting a first-hand look at what their future might be.
Such as the 26 current and former Paralympians playing on first and second division teams. Ten of those are Canadians. All except Pat Anderson and David Eng, who play for the top seeded Division I New York Knicks, the others all suit up for the DI and DII teams of the Toronto Rollin' Raptors.
Bo Hedges, a three-time Paralympian, told me, "We have a pretty strong group of players in Toronto so giving them the chance to play on these two levels is great for the development. We have a couple of national team guys on each team as well as a bunch of our developing players who are training all year-round together in Toronto so it's great to have something where we can go for a championship and travel around and go play all these great teams down in the U.S."
The DI side is helmed by the head coach of Canada's National Men's Team, Matteo Feriani and assistant coach Joey Johnson. The coaching staff of the DII squad includes the women's national head coach Marc Antoine Ducharme.
Speaking of coaches, NWBT also includes the induction ceremony for the NWBA Hall of Fame, and this year's class will include Ron Lykins, who steered the USA men to gold at Rio after previously doing the same for the American women in Athens and Beijing.
He will be joined by my fellow Tarheel native, Stephanie Wheeler, who organized the USA women on their way to gold in Rio, after playing on both of Lykins' gold medal teams. With them will be former Canadian coach Mike Frogley who led the men of the maple leaf to gold in Sydney and Athens, and silver in Beijing. Lykins is also men's head coach at the University of Missouri while Wheeler guides the University of Illinois women. Frogley had previously coached the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater as well as Illinois, garnering 12 championships for men's and women's teams during that tenure.
And then there was Zambia. On Friday afternoon, the NWBA hosted a delegation from Zambia who are visiting the U.S. as part of a sports diplomacy program of the U.S. Department of State, which had also recently sent USA Women's head coach Trooper Johnson to Morocco to help teach the game.
The contingent from Zambia is here to learn more about promoting disability rights and inclusion, specifically as it can be impacted to the positive by sports. They represented the National Paralympic Committee of Zambia, the Bouleni United Sports Academy, Special Olympics Zambia, the Matero Women's Sports Club, as well as government agencies.
Various members of the NWBA leadership, including board member and two-time Paralympian Will Waller and Coach Lykins, spent several hours with the group discussing governance, funding, equipment and development of players and coaches, among other areas.
Growing the game in Zambia and other African nations is a priority of the IWBF, and as proven in the development of the sport in countries such as Afghanistan and India can attest, it can have tremendous positive social effect on the lives of those with a disability.
Oh yeah, the game.
In that triple-overtime game, the Kings Joe Chambers, a USA Paralympian in 2008, shot for 61 points. Dallas was determined that this game was going to be shorter and sweeter, establishing a small lead that continued to grow.
Chambers would still be the king of Kings with 30 points, but that wouldn't even beat the spread as the Mavericks killed the drama early, winning by 33, 85-22. Bobbie Nickleberry led the Mavs with 22 with Aaron Gouge adding 21 and Jay Nelms 19.
That big three will square off with the Knicks holy trinity of Anderson, Eng and Serio on Saturday. Will it be a sweet sixteen and four-peat for Dallas or will New York repeat their 2014 win over the Texas titans?
I'll get back to you on that.