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.”
Words can’t fathom everything that Scott Odom has been through in his life, yet he still considers himself blessed. Throughout the cancer treatments, losing a leg, losing friends and trying to build a new life, Scott Odom sees it as a calling.
“I feel like even though I went through cancer and lost my leg, even though I didn’t want to lose my leg, I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world,” he says. “I know now that what I’m doing is greater than what I could do before. I tell my teammates and everybody, god’s plan is sometimes better than what your dreams are. I’m blessed to be living that right now.”
As a kid, the NBA was Odom’s dream, like most of us. We all wanted to be a professional athlete, a fireman or an astronaut. How many of us would leave our current jobs if we received an opportunity to play in the NBA? Most of us would. Yet Scott Odom told me, “If I had to pick between the two, I would definitely continue doing what I’m doing. I like to help other people, I want to do stuff for other people.”
Jon Solomon and Scott Odom are two people that have dedicated their lives to helping other people through the sport of basketball. The story of Scott Odom has a chance to inspire people beyond what any 40-point performance from Kevin Durant can do. It’s a story of hope, fighting through adversity and never giving up. Most of us take the sport of basketball for granted, while Scott Odom has to bust his ass ten times harder just to run down the court.
Even if the major TV markets don’t want to listen, Scott Odom is making noise all by himself. He’s made history as the first one-legged basketball player to sign a professional contract. But, at the end of the day, Scott Odom doesn’t not want to be remembered as the guy that played basketball. That’s something we should all take a lesson from.
“I don’t want to be known as guys a guy that played basketball or just the guy with one leg that played basketball,” he says. “I want them to see the bigger picture of why I did this and why I’m doing this. Yes, I love basketball. But at the end of the day it’s a bigger message that I’m trying to send out of people of never giving up and never losing hope, because there’s a lot of negative in the world. I’m just trying to provide something positive and inspirational to give people hope. If it can be my story or my team’s story, it would be that we didn’t trust in any person or look to go to any person for help. I put all my trust in Him [God] and he’s gotten me and the team this far. Hopefully people can see that.”
For my full interview with Scott Odom, keep reading below:
Dime: Did you ever imagine you would be the first one-legged basketball player to sign a professional contract?
Scott Odom: No, never–that never crossed my mind at all. As a kid, I dreamed about being a professional athlete–I played all sports as a kid. Then, when I was 14, that’s when I was diagnosed with bone cancer and then I opted to have my leg amputated. Once my leg was amputated at 14, I still wanted to be active and play sports. After playing baseball in high school and colleges not looking at me because of my leg, it kind of left my mind. I sat out when I was 18 and started a stand-up basketball team. It took eight years to really get it going, for people to really take me serious, and then the other amputees found me and we co-founded Amp1 together. But, with me doing Amp1, it never crossed my mind, it was never my goal. I just felt like, with my story, going through cancer, overcoming adversity, I just felt like I was meant to help people through sports.
Through basketball, basketball is my tool to reach out to people and help them. 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. To be presented with this offer, the one-day contract, it blew me away. I’m really honored and touched–I told Jon I’m nervous. I know this is their jobs, they are professional athletes. Even though I’m an athlete, at the end of the day, I’m a short white guy with one leg. I’ve got every obstacle against me, but I do play with heart, so that will definitely show out there on the court.
Dime: How did you find out about the contract?
SO: Like Jon said, Jeremy through SLAM got us in contact two or three years ago. Jon has been real supportive with everything I’ve been doing, I mean we stay in touch, we’ve never met in person, but we always stay in touch. He’s tried getting me on different shows, which just hasn’t happened yet. He was calling me up and I’ve been trying to get my speaking out more but no agent will really contact me or book me because they don’t know who I am. Jon knew a guy that was really good at marketing, which happened to be the owner of Lake Michigan, Chris, and we get Chris on the phone to see if he had any ideas. We were on a three-way and we all started talking. Chris said how he was really inspired and touched by my story after we were talking and he said he had a really crazy idea. So, he [Chris] asked if I would like to come play with the Lake Michigan Admirals for one game. I thought it was a joke, like ha-ha funny. Then he was serious and said he wanted me to sign a one-day contract, because he thought we could touch a lot of people’s lives. Just with Jon and Chris’ support, that’s really helped me get to this point.
Dime: Initial reaction when you found out about the contract and the first person you told?
SO: The first person I told were my parents, just because they’ve been through everything with me. My parents were beside my hospital bed every day when I was going through cancer and everything I’ve done in my life, I’ve always talked to them about it. They were teary eyed and shocked and proud at the same time.
The next person I told was a close teammate of mine, who plays on my Amp1 team. He’s actually helping me train a little bit more. But, I told him and he was just super excited. He’s a paralympic athlete, he’s won gold medals in track and field. To me, he’s better than me–he’s a real athlete. He was proud of me, saying I deserve it and stuff. I’ve been weird about it, saying I don’t deserve it and stuff, because there are a lot of great amputee athletes out there as well. Those guys have really had my back and supported me through all this stuff. I’ve been real blessed.
Dime: Is there a certain point along this journey, where it starts to become less about basketball and more about inspiring and motivating the youth who are going through what you went and are going through?
SO: Most definitely. When we do these Amp1 games, events, when we go to the schools or hospitals and visit the kids, I tell my teammates that it’s more than basketball. I love basketball with a passion, it’s my greatest passion, I love the game. I’m very blessed to be able to go back and play the game with one leg, but at the end of the day, it is just a game. If I can use something I love, through basketball, to help other people, and I’ve seen it happen in person. When we have an event and we have people coming up to us after the event, crying and saying how much we’ve touched their lives because we have never given up on life. They may be having a hard time with something in their life, there’s no doubt that helping someone is more important than playing a game of basketball for myself. So, I feel like even though I went through cancer and lost my leg, even though I didn’t want to lose my leg, I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world. I know now that what I’m doing is greater than what I could do before. I tell my teammates and everybody, God’s plan is sometimes better than what your dreams are. I’m blessed to be living that right now.
Dime: Is the NBA still your dream?
SO: As a kid, yeah the NBA. My team, we got to play during halftime at a Dallas Mavericks and that was a big thing for us, because we’ve all dreamed of playing on an NBA court. If I had to pick between the two, I would definitely continue doing what I’m doing. I like to help other people, I want to do stuff for other people. I just feel like what I’m doing right now, just given a bigger opportunity or having a bigger stage to do it on, we could touch and inspire so many people through the game of basketball by what we are doing. And so to me, that’s more important, just touching other peoples lives. If I’m able to do that through an NBA game, great, if through this, even better. Whatever way I can do that, I wanna do that.
Dime: You had a tryout with the Texas Legends of the NBA D-League a few years back, how much did that motivate you to keep pushing?
SO: When I got the offer to tryout, I met Donnie Nelson at an event. Donnie Nelson was a really nice guy and he wanted me to come out tryout for the Legends. At the time, I wasn’t mentally prepared, I was super nervous. But, I went to the tryout and had a malfunction with my leg. That’s the thing a lot of people don’t realize is that we put a lot of strain on our prosthetics that we have. If something goes wrong, we’re pretty much done for the day. Unless I have a backup piece with me, I’m done. When I went out there and got around guys that played college ball, or overseas professionally, being around those guys makes you want to be better. That’s why I play against able-bodied players all the time, because I do want to get better as an athlete and as a basketball player.
Being around those guys let me see where my flaws were. My leg is never going to be the same, I’m never going to be able to run as fast as I could before, or juke/pivot the way I did when I had two legs–but I can still play. Even though I’m not going to be at that level, there’s still a lot I can work on. As an above-knee amputee, I have to work my butt off to even get up and down the court. Then to play basketball, a physical game, I have to work constantly at getting better and better. Being around those guys definitely motivated me to get better.
Dime: What do you think able-bodied opponents think about you when they see you step on the court?
SO: I’m definitely an underdog, I still get it to this day. Even if I play at the same rec center that I play at four times a week, if we get a few new guys that come in, I’m still the last to get picked at times because of my leg. If I’m definitely playing against someone that has never played against me, they try to take it easy on me. They won’t guard me as close, which is fine. Like I said, I’m a short white guy that can’t dunk with one leg, so I have to shoot. Once I start knocking some shots down, they are like “Okay, I guess this guy is really gonna play.”
It’s definitely the type of image and message we are trying to send out to people. That’s why we take it to schools as well, because when people look at us it’s like, yeah I’m missing a leg and people make these assumptions that I can’t run or jump and just automatically get those images in their head. That even happens in schools, even if someone if able-bodied, they look at someone and get a perspective of them and automatically judge that person by the way they look. We are trying to show people that just because someone is an amputee, we don’t consider ourselves handicapped. I don’t consider myself disabled, I can do just about anything you or anyone else can do. So, I’m definitely an underdog when it comes to playing basketball and being on the court. No matter where I go, I know on the 29th I’m going to have to prove myself because those images and perceptions are going to be out there with people.
Dime: If you could choose how you would perform on March 29th, what would your statline look like?
SO: I just wanna hit some shots, that’s my biggest thing. I know Jon and them really want me to hit some shots. Everywhere I can go, that’s what I’m known as–the three-point guy. I’m just hoping I can get open, I don’t know how these guys are going to guard me. I’m sure they’re going to guard me pretty good–but I just want to hit some open shots.
On defense, I just want to hold my own and help out, so I’m not a crutch to them. I don’t want them to feel like they only have four guys on the court. I just want to play my role, not overdo it, take open shots and hope they go in.
Dime: There’s another lockout looming on the NBA–how does that make you feel?
SO: Me and my teammates have had conversations about this before. It bothers us the way sports is, with lockouts and stuff like that. Athletes make ridiculous amounts of money and for us and other athletes like what Jon is doing for those guys, we don’t get paid for any of this stuff. When we do an Amp1 event, I get paid nothing. I’m basically taking off work, losing money, to do something I love to do and to help other people. 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.
I would almost want them to put up some of their money, to play a game of half a season for free and donate the money to charity. Because, it’s disrespectful because we have to overcome adversity, no one is taking us seriously, we’ve had one sponsor and we only get to do four or five events a year. We would love to have a season where we could play all year around, but we just don’t have that luxury right now. To see the NBA get to a point where they want to lockout a season, because of money, it’s sad. Teachers, police officers and those people that really deserve the money don’t get nearly enough what athletes get paid to play a game of basketball.
Dime: Exactly. So I guess you would agree that most of the NBA players have lost the ability to play for the love of the game?
SO: No doubt. I would tell them that to their face. It’s sickening. I’ve heard the debate where it’s not their fault because they’re young and they get thrown all this money and this is how a young person acts. This concept is true, but I think the love of the game is definitely gone. You see players changing teams, left and right now, because they want more money–it’s just crazy.
Dime: Personally, I would rather watch the Amp1 league on TV with some of the stuff the NBA puts out today. Do you feel the same way?
SO: Well, I appreciate that. Thats my dream, that’s one of our dreams. 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.
If we can get a game televised, or really get direct recognition that Jon is trying to help us get, I really feel like people will see that we are playing for the love of the game and at the same time we are helping other people. I know when I was going through my cancer, I had the Dallas Cowboys and Texas Rangers come visit me at the hospital, but when they visited, it’s like they were told to come visit. Like it was part of their stipulation of being on the team. I could tell that half of them didn’t want to be there. Like, we’re calling schools and hospitals asking if we can come, nobody is telling us to do that. We want to do that, because we have been in their shoes, we know what it’s like. It’s all in God’s power and I know eventually it will happen, but we’re doing this because we love to do it and we love to help other people. We just want other people to see that.
Dime: Have you been in contact with any major brands or TV networks about making Amp1 something that the world can be aware of?
SO: Like I said, no one takes us seriously, because no one knows who we are. I’ve been blessed enough to have ESPN online do an article on me years ago, but nothing really came out of it. One of our teammates is actually a shoe developer for Nike, so he got us a game at the Nike camp up at Oregon and they have been in talks with us and look like they are interested in helping us out, but nothing is set in stone yet. I actually got to meet Mark Cuban, face-to-face, a couple years ago. A lady was really touched by one of my speeches and she was going to an event where Cuban was going to be and she wanted me to meet him. So, I went to go meet him, I had everything in an envelope, articles, DVDs. I didn’t want to waste a lot of his time, I just wanted to give it to him and hope he would see it. He kind of brushed me off and didn’t take it. He told me to send it in and I gave it to his assistant. I found out that she never gave it to him. It’s stuff like that, where I’ve been trying and trying. But, I just stay with it and stay with my faith, it’s all in God’s hands. Eventually the door will open and I know that’s where I’m supposed to be and that’s what’s supposed to happen.
Dime: NBA comparison?
SO: I don’t like to compare myself, but everyone at the gym seems to call me Ray Allen. Just because I shoot a lot of threes and that’s what people know me for. I’ve always said that I would love to have a friendly three-point shootout with him. I love Ray Allen and Stephen Curry, guys that are quiet and aren’t flamboyant, I like that.
Dime: Biggest inspiration?
SO: I would say my parents, just because I don’t know how they did it. Dealing with a kid that had cancer at 14 and being so strong, for me, even though I know now that they were really scared. My dad is still working full-time and he’s been at the same job since I was born. He’s worked as a mechanic at a shop and he’s the only one there. My brother is there with him now, but he’s worked the same job, worked in the ghetto, been robbed I don’t know how many times. No matter what, though, he stays with it. Just seeing him go through that and providing for his family and everything, he puts everyone before him. It really inspires me, because that’s how I want to live. Living for other people and he set a really good image for me.
Then, I go to a cancer camp every summer as a volunteer counselor and this will be my 15th or 16th year going. But, seeing kids that were in the same shoes that I was and knowing that I’m helping them inspires me. I’m providing that inspiration and hope for them so that inspires me and motivates me to keep it going and keep doing this, even though it gets hard at times.
Dime: When all is said and done, what do you want your legacy to be remembered as?
SO: Just somebody that they can see my faith through everything I was doing. Because, at the end of the day I had a lot of people tell me that I couldn’t do this or that I was too crazy and this would never happen. But, the one person that I did listen too was God and my faith. I felt like he put this in my heart. So, if people can see that I stuck with my faith and trusted in Him, I’ll be happy with that. If that leads them to Him, then it will be even better. I don’t want to be known as a guy that played basketball or just the guy with one leg that played basketball. I want them to see the bigger picture of why I did this and why I’m doing this. Yes, I love basketball. But at the end of the day it’s a bigger message that I’m trying to send out of people of never giving up and never losing hope, because there’s a lot of negative in the world. I’m just trying to provide something positive and inspirational to give people hope. If it can be my story or my team’s story, it would be that we didn’t trust in any person or look to go to any person for help. I put all my trust in Him [God] and he’s gotten me and the team this far. Hopefully people can see that.
For more, visit AMP1 Basketball at Amp1basketball.com and Jon Solomon’s Self Motivated Athletic Agency at SelfMotivatedAthleticAgency.com. Check out the video below for a recap of the big night.
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