Imagine breaking 110 bones. Imagine tripping and falling in a basketball game and ending up in the hospital with a broken arm, two broken legs, a broken nose and three demolished fingers. For Dustin Ferreira, this is no dream. It actually happened. And now he, along with his two teammates Tommy Hambicki and Kelly Case, is a part of one of the best three-on-three hoop teams in the country.
“I don’t think in any way that we are just regular players,” says Ferreira. “It’s hard to say what we have, but when you see us, you can say ‘there is something about those guys.'”
Self-described as the “Bad Boys of Wheelchair Basketball,” the three are lifelong players who all have interesting stories.
Hambicki was a fantastic high school basketball player and was a part of a state championship team. He was on his way to college on an athletic scholarship, but before he could make it there, he snapped the 11th vertebrae in his spine during a car accident in Arizona. Strangely similar, Case was also in a car accident seven years ago.
Ferreira was born with osteogensis imperfecta, a brittle bone disease that leaves him especially vulnerable to injuries.
“Any normal person, their growth is good and you would never be able to tell,” says Ferreira. “With me, I am 4-4. Like I said, I have broken a shitload of bones, but as I get older it gets better because you get stronger. To be honest, you would never notice.”
Perhaps. But either way, Ferreira has had to overcome a lot, including the incident mentioned above where he fell forward out of his wheelchair during a game and broke a countless number of bones. Yet it doesn’t seem to faze him; Ferreira takes out his anger on opposing teams.
“Teams hate us,” says Ferreira. “They hate us. It’s because we always have our aggression level and we always play the way we play. We always have that edge, whether it is an elbow thrown or maybe you just took out one of my guys and this is a little bit of retaliation.”
The three play year-round for a wheelchair club sponsored by the Phoenix Suns, complete with league games and their own mini-March Madness. While there is no compensation for playing, the basketball is a welcome escape from everyone’s nine-to-five.
Still, last year was filled with disappointments for this team. They made the playoffs, but were unable to participate because of a lack of funding.
“It was a huge stab in the heart, playing all those games and tournaments and then finding out we couldn’t go,” laments Ferreira. “I’ve been playing ball for a lot of years and this one really hurts. You work so hard and then to have that one pulled away from us, it is absolutely devastating.”
Playoffs or not, Ferreira has one goal when he hits the court: to change the way people see wheelchair players.
“At the end of the day, you can change a lot of people’s lives and you’ve opened them up to something they have never seen,” says Ferreira. “If they don’t give a shit, then they will walk on and go on with their life. But for the most part, it changes a lot of people’s personas.”
Follow Sean on Twitter at @SEANesweeney.
Follow Dime on Twitter at @DimeMag.
Become a fan of Dime Magazine on Facebook HERE.