His lanky body pinned underneath a wall, Skal Labissiere was aware what had happened. He’d been in earthquakes before, but he still didn’t believe it. One minute, the 13-year-old was washing up for dinner after basketball practice. The next, his house had imploded on Skal, his mother and his brother during the 2010 earthquake that devastated Haiti.
Dazed and disoriented, he thought at first that the whole thing was a dream. Then he felt the pain in his legs and heard the cries for help from his family and neighbors.
“Once you realize it’s real, it’s very scary,” Skal told DIME in a phone interview on Sunday. “Everyone’s freaking out. You think you’re about to die.”
Luckily, his father was outside the house when the quake hit. It took a few hours to sift through the rubble, but he and some neighbors painstakingly dug out Skal and the rest of the family. Their home was ruined, but he always knew how fortunate he was: Hundreds of thousands of people died, and many more were badly injured.
Skal didn’t escape unscathed. Having been trapped in an awkward position for hours, he couldn’t walk for a couple weeks, and he limped for quite a while after that. His spirit, though, was never broken; the whole time he worked to regain feeling in his legs, he held a basketball in his hands. Mere months later, with his parents finally offering their blessing, he was on his way to Memphis to play varsity ball as an eighth-grader — and to learn English.
“It was always my dream,” he said, “and I never really gave up on that dream.”
So much of the NBA Draft is predicated on upside potential, what someone might do in the future. That said, isn’t someone’s past experience just as instructive? With a lean 220 pounds on his 6-foot-11 frame, teams have gone out of their way to rough up Skal in workouts to see how he handles it. But no hard foul could possibly match the distance to here.
“People sometimes say, ‘Oh, he’s not tough enough,’” Skal said. “I don’t know about all of the other players in the Draft, but I don’t think people had to go through what I went through.
“I honestly think I’m one of the toughest players in the Draft, if not the toughest.”