Dime Q&A: Scott Odom, The First One-Legged Pro Basketball Player

03.25.14 5 years ago
There are constantly conversations in the NBA about players wanting more money and leaving teams just to get a few extra million. Lost in all the glitz, glamour and money is the ugly undercut of basketball. While everyone just enjoys the competition placed on national TV night after night, no one thinks about the people that don’t get that shot, the players that must leave their families, travel to different countries, praying to get a shot to live their dreams. No one thinks about the ones that wake up before the sun rises to get shots up, the ones that endure the blood, sweat and tears without any glory promised at the end of the road.

Enter Jon Solomon, the CEO of SMAA, or the Self Motivated Athletic Agency. Jon is the Phil Jackson of the basketball underworld. As he told me, “I’m just trying to take SMAA and provide opportunities for all kinds of people. With Scott [Odom], ex-NBA players, to guys that are just trying to pursue their dreams.”

SMAA is all about giving people opportunities to pursue their dreams, because the politics and hidden ugliness of the game of basketball never gave them that opportunity. He’s worked with players like Aquille Carr, Jason Williams, Gary Payton, Bonzi Wells and Tracy McGrady. There’s even talks about getting Allen Iverson on a tour with SMAA. Mainly, however, Solomon is focused on those junior college, D-II or D-III athletes that never received the shot to be great. But, what would make someone want to commit to this side of basketball, that doesn’t leave much room to sit in the spotlight?

“Because when I played, I worked really hard and I felt like I wasn’t given a fair opportunity to display my skills,” said Solomon.

That is something every human being can relate with–haven’t we all felt at one point in life? That we busted our asses and never were given the shot to show our skills? Whether it be in school, work, or sport, it’s happened to everyone. So, Jon Solomon has dedicated his life to doing whatever it takes to make these players’ dreams come true.

As I was on the phone with Jon, he was in an airport, getting ready to go to Mexico. The players in SMAA will travel on multiple tours, in an array of countries, just praying for that phone call about a contract.

“Right now, I’m in Arizona and I’ll be going to Mexico on Tuesday,” he said. “We have seven games in ten days for a tour. We want to give these guys direct looks from the teams. That’s what it’s about. I have a 15-day tour set up in late August, early September in Luxembourg, Germany this year. Who know’s what else might come? Any opportunities I can provide for someone else.”

Curious about it all, I had to ask what makes the potential of overseas ball so more advantageous compared to America. During the lockout, everyone jetted overseas to ball and it’s now becoming a trend among D-League players who don’t get the call-up they deserve. As Solomon detailed to me, “Well, the American player is everything. As an American, you’re responsible to do everything for the team. It’s a lot of pressure on guys, but if they can handle the pressure it will pay for their food, lodging and also your salary.

“But the unfortunate part is that if you aren’t performing up to their standards, they will cut you and you’ll be looking for another job. My main goal for SMAA is to start a worldwide schedule, where I can have something like AAU, but in a world sense. I can have a major sponsor–I wanted to try and do a reality show. That’s my goal, the reality show, which would back me into a TV sponsorship that I can provide opportunities, almost free of cost, for these guys. Right now, they have to come out of pocket to make something happen.”

Whoever it is, whatever the story is, Jon Solomon will make it his duty to give that person an opportunity to chase their dreams.

The process isn’t all butterflies and unicorns, however. So, what is the day-to-day life of a player in SMAA? As Solomon explains, “Just grind, man. Get to the gym and workout. When I first started, I was working guys out and I still do to an extent. Every day is about getting better and being in shape–you never know when you might get that opportunity or chance to get back overseas, or get your foot in the door.”

Throughout the conversation, I kept hearing one word over and over again: opportunity. That is exactly what Jon Solomon is attempting to do for these players. Creating opportunities, something that everyone deserves and craves for. There are rarely people in this world whose main goal is to create opportunity for OTHER people, instead of themselves. Soloman will take any type of player that wants an opportunity, whether they have three fingers or even one leg. Wait… one leg?

That’s where Scott Odom breaks into the picture, the one-legged basketball player who has the most inspirational story that has ever touched my ears.

While most of us are worrying about fitting in at 14 years old, Odom was having his leg amputated due to bone cancer. The doctor said he would never be able to play basketball again unless it was in a wheelchair. The doctor was wrong.

On March 29, Scott Odom will make history by playing for the Lake Michigan Admirals on a one-day contract in the Professional Basketball League. He’s the first one-legged basketball player to sign a professional contract. Young athletes see the game of basketball as a way to get rich quick. Scott Odom sees it differently.

“Basketball is my tool to reach out to people and help them,” he says. “If they can see us compete against able-bodied individuals than they can go out and spread the message of never giving up, keeping the faith and overcoming adversity. I’m happy doing that.”

Scott Odom never let anyone tell him that he couldn’t do something. He formed his own basketball league for amputee players, named AMP1. Jon Solomon explained Amp1 beautifully, saying “Amp1 is pretty much saying that just because I was born a certain way doesn’t mean I can’t do what you can do. That’s a really powerful statement when you can touch other people’s lives who may be down because of the economy, a bad break or anything.”

Don’t get it twisted, Scott Odom isn’t living fabulously off this opportunity; He leads a regular life like most of us.

“When we do an Amp1 event, I get paid nothing,” he says. “I’m basically taking off work, losing money, to do something I love to do and to help other people.”

Even if money was to come, Odom wouldn’t be doing this for the money. The concept of doing things for money, specifically, bothers Odom. Things like NBA lockouts and discussions about players leaving teams strictly for money is something that disgusts Odom, saying “When we see these athletes on TV or ESPN and it’s all this negative talk about this guy leaving this team because he wants more money, you almost want to ask them why they are playing the game. Do you really love the game of basketball or are you just doing it for the money? It’s almost like there are a lot of egos in sports. We are hoping if we can get out there more and show people that it’s not all about money and have people realize that too.”

Says Odom, “I would tell them that to their face. It’s sickening.”

But Odom doesn’t want his Amp1 crew and his own story to be played off as some inspirational segment–they want to be taken seriously.

“Thats my dream, that’s one of our dreams,” he says. “To have one of our games televised and to be taken seriously on ESPN, not to be put on an ESPN segment as an inspirational story. We want to be taken seriously. At the end of the day, I’m an above-the-knee amputee. I have one knee joint and one ankle joint, so I have to work ten times harder to even run. Then, to play basketball I have to really bust my butt and that’s why we are the only few select amputees that get to do this because this is really hard to do.”

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