Focus on Josh Adams: A broken neck could not stop him

If you ever wonder how life and perspective on life can change in the blink of an eye, you need to talk to Anadolu Efes Istanbul’s electrifying rookie point guard, Josh Adams. Because his did. Adams is playing on Turkish Airlines EuroLeague courts barely a year removed from a one-car accident that he was not only lucky to get out of alive, but required vertebrae fusion just to be able to play basketball again.

This season Adams is one of the quickest and fastest players in the EuroLeague, a guard who snatches rebounds above the rim and soars for ferocious dunks despite standing only 1.88 meters. In each of the last two EuroLeague games for Efes, he scored in double digits and is second on the team in assists, indicating he has adjusted well.

Efes has not started the season the way it hoped, but Adams is one of the players who can grab adversity by the horns. How could he not after his return from injuries that did not give him much of a chance to play again?

Adam’s life-changing event took place on a pleasant August night. Adams had just signed his first professional contract with Russian club Avtodor Saratov and was working out twice a day to get in the best shape possible. Days before leaving, with so many people wanting to see him, his old friends organized a going-away get-together. Pushing his body to the limit during the day and hanging out with friends until late at night turned out to be a bad combination. Driving home around 1:30 in the morning in Castle Rock, Colorado, Adams fell asleep behind the wheel.

“We are in a new suburb, a new housing complex, and the road back there is real dark, with no street lights,” Adams recalled as if it just happened. “There is nothing around you, just out in the country. Real curvy road and I fell asleep. The road started to turn left, and obviously, I did not make that turn.”

His car went straight off the road into a ditch and was airborne twice before hitting a fence and ending up on the other side of the ditch. Adams believes he remained conscious the entire time and recalls the moments after the incident. “I kind of took a deep breath and moved my fingers. ‘Okay, I’m good.’ Moved my feet, my toes. ‘Okay, that’s good.’ I had an adrenalin rush and I could feel it. There is dust in the car, everything in the car is thrown around. You can hear the car hissing. So my first instinct was to get out of the car to see how bad it is.”

He got out, went towards the front and saw the car was smashed. Totaled. “Oh, my gosh, my mom is going to kill me.”

He grabbed his head in disbelief, but his hand slipped off his head. Since it was too dark, he went into the car to take a look at his head in the rearview mirror only to see his face covered in blood. “My forehead was literally hanging off my face. I told myself, alright, this is probably worse than I thought.”

But the really bad news came a little later, at the hospital in the early morning hours, after all the test were done and the doctor came to his room. He gave Josh the rundown: a crushed and dislocated sternum and a broken neck with two fractured vertebrae. “When you hear broken neck, you think, you break your neck and you die, or you break your neck and you are paralyzed.”

He was luckily not dead and was walking after the accident, so the question was will he be able to play basketball. After Josh and his parents explained to the doctor that he had just signed a professional contract to play basketball in Russia, the doctor was pretty clear: “I can tell you, that’s not happening.”

After the initial tears dried and his anxiety passed, Adams learned he had two options. “To put in a halo and let it heal on its own, and I probably wouldn’t play again, or we can do the fusion surgery, and at that point, the chances to play basketball again are a lot higher. So, I made the decision to do the surgery.”

The surgery took place the next afternoon and he remained in the hospital for another four days, followed by another two weeks completely immobilized at home on a recliner. He wore a neck brace for another week, before starting physical therapy to regain his motor functions and range of motion.

But what about basketball? He was not allowed onto a basketball court for another month, and even then all he could do was stationary ball handling and maybe shoot free throws. He was not allowed to shoot jumpers for another month. For a player who relies so much on his speed, quickness, aggressiveness, and vertical leap, getting back in shape was going to be a challenge. Adams worked out and trained, before finally, in the first week of January he was cleared to practice, which he did at his former high school.

“It took about four or five months until I could go back to working out. Soon after that we started being really active, and in the next month or so I was pretty much cleared to play.”

During those longest months of his life, and his basketball career, Adams did volunteer work. He coached in a middle school kids’ three-on-three league. When training, the seriousness of his injuries forced him to go back to the basics, rebuild his strength and work on his fundamentals. One thing he did not have a problem with during the entire recovery process and training was motivation. “I learned just how much I love the game. Just trying to imagine living life without it was very difficult and I just wanted to get back to the game so bad.”

Describing himself as a very religious person, Adams also turned to faith in those toughest of times and had family and friends around him for assistance every step of the way. “I had a great supporting cast around me, my family, my trainer, my mentors. My brother came back from his job in the mountains, my sister came back from college. My dad, mom…everyone in my family was fantastic and helping me, when one person wasn’t available for me, another stepped up. Everyone in my family was just awesome.”

They helped Josh make a full recovery and return to the basketball courts last January. What surely helped him put his career back on track was how Avtodor Saratov treated him. “The club was fantastic about it. They contacted me as soon as they heard about the accident. They made sure I was alright, then said if you can get over here in six or seven months, we’ll be happy to honor your contract. I owe them my career, essentially. If I didn’t play there I would not be here. For them to honor the contract after an injury like that, it’s huge.”

He regained his strength, and his quickness, and despite needing time to get his jumping confidence back, Josh’s vertical jump was, by some measures, better than before the accident, which made Josh feel fantastic before making his return. The recovery process gave him time to work more on his ball handling, and surely changed his perspective on both life and basketball. “It puts in a perspective how short life can be, and you got to appreciate things you do have because they can be taken away from you quickly. So, a lot of things that used to make me mad, don’t make me mad anymore, because, in reality, they don’t mean that much. “

The reminders of the whole ordeal are many, but the biggest one is a scar that 35 stitches have left on his forehand. “It is a constant reminder every time I look in the mirror. But it makes me very grateful and realize how blessed I am to be alive, let alone play basketball. Every time I look in the mirror I say, wow, God is good.”