Standing Behind "The Stache": NBA's Adam Morrison
Miami, FL (November 2006) -- Wanda and John Morrison have mastered the art of teamwork. It’s apparent in conversation as each finishes the other’s last sentence. Maybe it stems from a solid foundation and 32 years of married life. Perhaps it ripened over time as they raised three children together, or sprung from necessity when their youngest was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. Wherever it originated, this warm and loving couple has passed the asset along to their kids, and especially to their youngest child, Adam Morrison, 22. Selected by the Charlotte Bobcats as the third overall pick in the 2006 NBA draft, Adam has taken this team mentality to a whole new level, while overcoming the challenges of this disease.
“There are several professional athletes that play a variety of sports, and they have diabetes,” said John of his son. “I think being into athletics has actually helped Adam stay in control of this disease – the discipline, the practice, his work ethic, and tenacity. He refuses to lose.”
As Adam is quickly rising to household name status, his parents look back upon his diagnosis, their family’s strength and solidarity, and their commitment to their son and his future.
A family history of diabetes…
On May 2, 1999, the devastating news of Adam’s diagnosis came as no surprise. Type 1 diabetes has affected both sides of the family and even the Morrisons’ beloved dog, Megan, suffered with the disease.
“Diabetes is not the death sentence it was for my mother. The technology was nowhere near where it is today,” said Wanda, who lost her mother to diabetes complications. John’s grandfather also suffered with the disease and the loss of a limb. From a young age, Adam and their two daughters, Brandie, 28, and Sara, 25, were keenly aware that there was a family history of diabetes. “We were never untruthful with our children.”
The undeniable signs surfaced after their 14-year-old battled a bout with the flu.
“I made him stay home from a tournament, which, to Adam, was worse than death. I really feel that incident is where his genes took a wrong turn,” said Wanda of the illness. “He lost weight, drank a lot of water, and was using the bathroom a lot. John and I could tell this wasn’t going to be good.”
A trip to the emergency room confirmed what they already knew in their hearts.
“He was such a trooper. He didn’t even cry,” Wanda insisted, but beyond the tough exterior, she could see that Adam’s mind was reeling. She imagined that he was contemplating his life and future, the possible end to a career in sports, and even death.
To alleviate his panic, they reminisced about their family pet and the rigorous schedule that accompanied managing her diabetes.
“That experience of watching our dog, Megan, go through spells of highs and lows actually helped Adam relate to diabetes,” said John.
Talking about Megan helped make the moment a little lighter, however, it was Adam’s doctor who extinguished his most inconceivable fear in an instant with just a few words, “You can still play basketball.”
The Morrisons watched the tension in their son’s face drain – the diagnosis rendered bearable once he realized that he could continue to strive for his dream.
“There was no way we could discourage him after that,” said Wanda.
During the first few weeks after Adam’s diagnosis, the Morrison family made the necessary changes to their lifestyle, eliminating the cookies from the cabinets and ice cream from the freezer. Since they were a healthy, athletic bunch, well-balanced meals were always on the menu, and fast food was never the norm. However, John described that first trip to the grocery store as rather intimidating.
“We were wondering where the diabetic section was. We were looking for low sugar this and that, checking out the carb counts. That part was nerve-wracking at first,” he said.
Wanda continued, “In the beginning, and to this day, there’s still some freaking out, the inevitable highs and lows, but we know that diabetes will not defeat us.”
“The biggest thing is to stay on task,” John finished.
Diabetes on the court…
A basketball coach for more than 20 years, John introduced Adam to the game he now loves. Basketball games, bus rides and practices were always a part of the family’s routine. John and Wanda recognized their son’s talent early on when their toddler started shooting hoops at 13 months.
“He didn’t like missing shots then either,” Wanda joked.
A prolific scorer, Adam averaged more than 25 points per game at Gonzaga University, located in his hometown of Spokane, WA. The 6-foot-8, 205-pound forward led the NCAA’s Division-1 in scoring last season and was hailed West Coast Conference player of the year before announcing that he would forgo his senior year for the NBA. An aggressive competitor with a killer instinct and a wicked jump shot, Adam is adored by fans for his charismatic personality and that trademark patchy mustache that earned him the nickname, “The Stache.”
In college, he perfected his pre-game ritual to a science in order to keep his glucose levels under control. On game day, he eats the same meal two hours and 15 minutes before tip-off, using a pump through warm-up, disconnecting and taking insulin manually if necessary during the game, then hooking back up to the pump after the buzzer.
“Once we looked into the possibility of the pump and decided to move forward with it, it really was the best thing for Adam,” said John.
Adam has never hidden the fact that he has diabetes; however, like many teens with the disease, he wanted to avoid being labeled as “different.” His mother recalled that he would typically head to the bathroom when he needed a shot of insulin at school, and on the court, the necessity turned into a nuisance.
Wanda explained, “He just didn’t want to leave the game. It took a while for him to get used to it.”
His devoted mom would sit directly behind the bench, assisting in glucose checks during time-outs and carrying an arsenal of insulin and snacks. Wanda remembered one heart-wrenching experience when as a high school junior Adam suffered a severe insulin reaction during a game.
“He said to me, ‘Mom, there’s only one thing that can stop me, and that’s diabetes.’ My heart ached,” said Wanda. That moment was the impetus that led the family to a nutritionist, who provided them with a better understanding of how to control the disease and got Adam on the right track to an enormously successful career. “Tough as it was, that was the trigger for getting Adam what he needed to excel.”
Rising to star athlete…
Despite the myriad accolades Adam received throughout college – plus the fact that he’s a clutch performer who can get a shot off from anywhere – some teams might have considered his diabetes to be an insurmountable obstacle. However, after selecting Adam, it’s clear that Michael Jordan, the new basketball operations chief and part owner of the Charlotte Bobcats, believes he has what it takes to outrival opposing defenses during the 82-game pro schedule.
Adam’s style of play has drawn comparisons to Larry Bird, and not so coincidentally, the Hall of Famer is Adam’s favorite baller to have ever played the game. But it’s comparisons to former NBA center Chris Dudley, who played with type 1 diabetes for 16 seasons, that has reminded many that diabetes does not equate to disability.
Bulldog fans, on the other hand, have never doubted the ability and sheer performance value of The Stache. They have always relished the intensity he plays with and the animated persona that rears its head in trash-talking tongues – though Wanda insists that sharp remarks on the court are almost “deceiving.”
“He’s actually quite shy,” she confided. “But he’s also a warrior, on the court and off. He’ll do whatever it takes to win. That aspect of his personality comes out with his diabetes, too. He won’t let anything interfere with his dreams.”
For these reasons and more, Adam has set a strong example for his younger fans.
“Adam never set out to be a role model, but I think he’s become a good one,” Wanda proudly stated of her son, who happens to sign countless autographs but always takes extra time for kids with diabetes. “When he was first diagnosed, Adam didn’t really have a mentor with diabetes to look up to. That’s why it’s so important to him now – to be that person for others.”
Advice for other parents…
If Wanda and John can offer any advice to other families like theirs, it is to always encourage your children to chase their hopes and dreams, regardless of diabetes.
“We worry just like any other parents,” said Wanda of the intense NBA schedule and the possibility of injury that all athletes face. “That’s our little boy out there. Having this disease might make a child’s dreams harder to reach, but you can never give up hope,” Wanda said, holding back tears.
“Adam’s dream has come true, and we are unbelievably proud of him,” said Wanda.
“A cure for diabetes is on the horizon, and we believe it will happen in his lifetime,” she concluded.
Scientists at the Diabetes Research Institute are working feverishly to ensure that Wanda and John's dream comes true, too.