Two years after the crash that changed his life, it takes Kenny Lee a moment to remember the make and model of the car: "It was a Mitsubishi Endeavor, I think."
Lee, now 27, was seated in the passenger seat of that Endeavor in Pensacola, Florida, when it was struck by an oncoming vehicle and the force of the impact reached his side of the car. That much he remembers. In between his remaining moments of consciousness, he also remembers his cousin, the driver, losing control and screaming. Lee had been just fifteen minutes from home.
Although he remembers little of the 3 a.m. car accident, he does recall his reaction upon waking up. "I told people, 'I have to get home to St. Louis so I can play in my basketball game.' They said, 'No, you're going to be here for a while.'" Lee, a point guard on the basketball team at Harris-Stowe University, was told he had broken his back and was paralyzed from the chest level down. It would be a year before he played another game.
Two years after his accident, Lee is focused on both finishing the degree in business management that he began at Harris-Stowe in 2006 and cementing a role on the Mobile Patriots wheelchair basketball team. Lee's history with the game is long: He started playing for his city league in Milton, Florida, in second grade before later moving to St. Louis and playing for Harris-Stowe from 2006 until his accident. Lee joined the Alabama wheelchair basketball team one year after his accident (one year ago), when his time spent working at a children's camp convinced him he should return to the game.
"It's a stress reliever, to tell you the truth," Lee says. "As a kid, my dad had all these old Boston tapes and DVDs of Larry Bird, and I used to watch them all the time. It's the excitement of it. On the court, it's very relaxing, but at the same time I'm a competitor and I know the object is to win."
Lee currently borrows the sports wheelchair he uses for Patriots games from a teammate, but his goal is to purchase his own for the next season. Tomorrow will find him participating in a fundraiser game at the Emerson Performance Center at Harris-Stowe to raise the money for his own performance chair, which costs anywhere from $2,500 up depending on custom fit.
The game comes with different levels of sponsorship for the approximately 25 players involved, and interested parties can also donate money online or over the phone. The event will also include celebrity athletes, including former Cardinals outfielder Lonnie Maclin, the night's other beneficiary.
"Basketball has helped me get through a lot, and it has taken me a long way," Lee says. "I'm just glad I decided to play it again. It's my game."
Below is a video of Lee on the court: