F self- be­lief

WKND - - Life Lessons -

or most of us, the chance to fi­nally re­tire, put up our feet and watch the world go by would be like mu­sic to the ears. Not for John Dabrowski. At 62, the for­mer pro basketball star from Not­ting­ham, Eng­land, is only “warming up” to a new ca­reer as a mo­ti­va­tional speaker and men­tal tough­ness ex­pert — and he has no plans of slow­ing down.

The idea to rein­vent him­self as an in­spi­ra­tional speaker has its roots in his child­hood, when John suf­fered from an ut­ter lack of con­fi­dence as a young boy. Born to Pol­ish par­ents, he strug­gled to read aloud from English texts in class and re­mem­bers how the “chil­dren laugh­ing and gig­gling de­stroyed [ his] con­fi­dence” in school. “I didn’t have any friends ei­ther, be­cause I couldn’t com­mu­ni­cate with them,” he re­calls.

It didn’t help when, once dur­ing PE class, he was the last to be picked on a team. “I was 11 years old, and six foot one; very gan­gly, very un­co­or­di­nated. The boys picked their favourites to be on their teams and I was the last. No one wanted me and that af­fected me badly.”

But a trip to Poland to meet his un­cle that year changed his life com­pletely. “My un­cle played for the Pol­ish army’s basketball team,” he says. “It was just a mo­ment when he was talk­ing to me and shoot­ing the ball into the bas­ket at the same time — but I was hooked. I begged my mom for a basketball, and prac­tised the best that I could… There came a mo­ment, a cou­ple of months later, when we were lined up for basketball in PE class again. The boys were choos­ing teams and it was down to two of us. I thought, here we go again. This time, how­ever, I got picked first. For the first time, I felt wanted. I looked back at the kid by the wall, and de­cided I’d never be that boy again.”

John went on to work very hard at play­ing ball. “My dad had the best gar­den in the en­tire street in those days,” he notes. “I per­suaded him to build a basketball ring for me in it. A few weeks later, the flow­ers were com­pletely de­stroyed. They were his pas­sion — but he saw his son grow­ing in con­fi­dence for the first time, and he con­sid­ered it worth the sac­ri­fice. He passed away three years ago, but I’m grate­ful that I man­aged to say a big thank you to him be­fore that.”

At 17 years old, in 1971, John was picked for Eng­land ju­nior tri­als. He only got in when he tried again the fol­low­ing year, and started mak­ing his way up, by play­ing with top lo­cal leagues. In 1978, he played for Eng­land in the Com­mon­wealth Games, and jumped at the chance to go pro the next year, at 25, when he was asked to play for Sun­der­land. It was a ca­reer high — that came crash­ing down, six weeks later, when John suf­fered a se­ri­ous back in­jury. “One of the floor­boards was wet dur­ing a game,” he ex­plains. “I slipped and popped a disc in my back. The pain was un­bear­able.”

Though he could’ve given up and gone back to his one- time job as a teacher, John says this is where he had to prac­tise re­silience. With the help of some ther­apy, he man­aged to play for two more years be­fore re­tir­ing at 27 — dur­ing which time he set the sec­ond high­est record for the most num­ber of points 4 I don’t mean show­ing off; just quiet in­ner con­fi­dence. When I was 18 and in col­lege, I had to in­tro­duce a pro­fes­sor to four stu­dents at my ta­ble. I re­mem­ber my palms were sweat­ing, my heart was pump­ing, and there was a roar­ing noise in my ears. I was so scared. All I had to say was four words: “Please wel­come Pro­fes­sor Brown”. The story doesn’t have a happy end­ing, I’m afraid. When the time came, the stu­dents turned to look at me and I froze. Pro­fes­sor Brown had to in­tro­duce him­self. But the guy who couldn’t speak in front of four stu­dents speaks to crowds of 600 today. And that took self- be­lief.

BACK IN THE DAY:

John Dabrowski ( No 7) takes a shot; with Magic John­son ( cel­e­brat­ing a semi- pro game win

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