Last hur­rah

Weekend Herald - - News - Niall An­der­son

“I thought that was it.” Kiwi bas­ket­baller Lind­say Tait opens up about his silent bat­tle with can­cer and re­tir­ing at the age of 36.

In a bas­ket­ball ca­reer where he spe­cialised in over­com­ing ob­sta­cles, Lind­say Tait was not pre­pared for the big­gest chal­lenge of them all.

Shortly af­ter the con­clu­sion of the 2017 New Zealand Na­tional Bas­ket­ball League sea­son, where Tait made the play­offs for the 16th time in 18 sea­sons, he took off to the United States for a break.

On his re­turn, he no­ticed some­thing was wrong, and soon dis­cov­ered a con­cern­ing lump in his throat. It was thy­roid can­cer and it had spread to his lymph nodes.

Af­ter win­ning seven ti­tles and com­pil­ing 37 in­di­vid­ual awards in his NBL ca­reer, Tait’s bas­ket­ball ca­reer looked over. Far worse than that — he be­lieved his life was over.

“When I was di­ag­nosed and you even hear the use of the word can­cer — you think you’re go­ing to die. I thought that was it,” re­calls Tait.

“All I was think­ing about was my sons and my fam­ily. I was think­ing ‘I need to be here to see my sons to turn into men’. I wasn’t ready to go yet.”

On Oc­to­ber 9, Tait un­der­went surgery to re­move his thy­roid gland, and with it, the can­cer. Like he had done so many times on the court, Tait came out on top.

Tait will re­tire at the end of the cur­rent NBL sea­son, bring­ing to a close a sto­ried 19-year ca­reer he is grate­ful to have ex­tended by an ad­di­tional year.

Typ­i­cally, a can­cer bat­tle calls ca­reers to a close, but for Tait, it was the op­po­site. Once re­cov­ered from surgery, the 36-year-old point guard viewed his close call as giv­ing him a “sec­ond chance at life” — and an op­por­tu­nity to make a state­ment in one last sea­son.

“It def­i­nitely changed my per­spec­tive on life and the game of bas­ket­ball — I do not take for granted any time I’m able to open my eyes and go out and play bas­ket­ball. I’ve al­ways loved it but it’s ex­tra spe­cial now,” says Tait.

Why come back for one last cam­paign? Af­ter all, the Avon­dale Col­lege prod­uct has noth­ing more to prove in the league — he’s ar­guably the NBL’s most ac­com­plished player, and the league’s most con­sis­tent force for most of this cen­tury. Yet, de­spite that, Tait wanted to come back to show his sons Mikaere and Mar­ley how to ap­proach ad­ver­sity.

“I have two young sons and they’ve been through this with me, es­pe­cially my el­dest who is 12 years old,” said Tait.

“I felt that it was im­por­tant that he sees that when life puts some­thing in front of you that’s dif­fi­cult, and you get knocked down, you don’t stay down. You get up, and you keep fight­ing. I wanted him to know the cloth that he’s cut from — that’s his DNA.”

Tait has 15 games left in his NBL ca­reer — a ca­reer which will see him fin­ish in the top 10 all-time in points, as­sists and games played. While he has a few games he’d like back, there’s no­body in the New Zealand bas­ket­ball com­mu­nity who would deny Tait his sta­tus as an NBL great, and he be­lieves that is his crown­ing ac­com­plish­ment.

“A lot of peo­ple say they have no re­grets but there are things in my bas­ket­ball ca­reer, de­ci­sions I’ve made and things I’ve done that I do re­gret, but I look back on my ca­reer and I smile, I’m at peace. I have the re­spect of my peers and ul­ti­mately that’s all I was fight­ing for.”

Now, Tait is hop­ing to pass his ex­pe­ri­ence on to the next gen­er­a­tion, and give back to the game which gave him so much.

He is tak­ing the lead with the Bas­ket­ball Auck­land Tal­ent Ac­cel­er­a­tor Pro­gramme — an op­por­tu­nity for rep­re­sen­ta­tive-level high school play­ers to learn from the best.

It’s a path he didn’t ex­pect to be tak­ing, but life has been full of those for Tait in the past few months. Both his par­ents coached, and a piece of wis­dom from his fa­ther proved pre­scient as Tait be­gan his foray.

“Bas­ket­ball has given me a lot, and I never en­vi­sioned my­self get­ting in­volved with coach­ing. When I was telling [my fa­ther] when I was younger that I’d never even con­sider coach­ing, he told me that it’s the clos­est feel­ing you’ll ever get to play­ing.

“Be­ing in­volved for a short pe­riod now, I’d agree with that. There is a feel­ing of joy you get when you take a young, tal­ented kid and teach him some­thing and see him do it; it’s as ex­cit­ing to me now as if I can pull it off my­self.”

Af­ter over­com­ing his off-court bat­tle, Tait is mak­ing the most of his sec­ond chance to make an im­pact on the court.

“I’m not a re­li­gious man, but it is a bless­ing,” he re­flects. “I just feel lucky ev­ery day that I get another chance to do this.”

A lot of peo­ple say they have no re­grets but there are things in my bas­ket­ball ca­reer, de­ci­sions I’ve made and things I’ve done that I do re­gret, but I look back on my ca­reer and I smile, I’m at peace. Lind­say Tait

Lind­say Tait is grate­ful he got a chance to play one more sea­son of NBL af­ter win­ning his can­cer bat­tle.

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