- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
The cruelest joke in sports history has to be the one that fate played on a skinny sunbeam named Joe Kay.
Joe Kay was one of Arizona's best high school volleyball players. All-conference in basketball. Scholarship to Stanford. Class valedictorian. Perfect math score on the SAT. President of Associated Students Against Hunger. Lead sax in the school band. Vegetarian.
All until this moment: It's the night of Feb. 6, 2004. Joe Kay is the 6'5", 175-pound flagpole whose monster dunk has just put Tucson High up for good against archrival and state powerhouse Salpointe. The fans are chanting his name as if it were one happy word: "JoeKay! JoeKay!"
The buzzer sounds, the rafter-scratching crowd of 1,000 spills onto the floor as if a dike has burst. A throng of delirious boys runs madly at Joe Kay, out of their minds with desire to grab, carry and/or dog-pile their hero, all at once. But for Joe Kay it's like being hugged by the 5:15 train. They are coming too hard. He tries to brace himself, but two guys flat-out tackle him. A dozen more pile on. Joe Kay gets twisted. Something freaky happens inside his neck.
Joe Kay winds up in a hospital, his right side is paralyzed, and he can't say a word. In another room the doctor is telling Joe Kay's mother, Suzanne, that when her son got body-slammed, his carotid artery was briefly blocked, keeping blood from his brain. Joe Kay had had a stroke. "This is big, this is permanent, and this is devastating," the doctor said.
Joe Kay was not a braggart, not evil, not a spoiled jerk. Why hit him with a lightning bolt the very moment he scaled Everest? Why take one of the greatest moments of his life and, three seconds later, make it the worst? How could a bunch of students trying to idolize him paralyze him instead?
If it were me, I'd sue God. I'd be so angry, I'd make King Lear look like an Optimist Club president. I'd be bitter and vengeful and a human storm cloud. But not Joe Kay. He isn't down. Joe Kay wouldn't see a glass half empty if you dumped it over his head.
"There's no why about it," says Joe Kay, who walks and talks and thinks with a little hitch now. "It just did. It sucks. It happened to me. I don't dwell on it. What are you going to do about it? I mean, how bad is it compared with what's happening to people in Sudan? In India?"
There are only two little things that bother Joe Kay:
1) He wishes he'd simply laid in the big basket instead of tomahawk dunking it. He thinks his dramatic slam yanked the crowd off its chain. "I think that dunk is why I'm talking to you today."