You may or may not yet be aware that former NBA player Rodney Rogers was paralyzed from the neck-down last week while riding an ATV in Vance County, North Carolina. He played about a dozen years in the pros after being drafted by the Nuggets in the first round of the 1993 draft out of Wake Forest.
Rogers grew up in Durham, NC and attended Hillside High School where he remains one of the most high profile athletes to have ever played in Durham (John Lucas is probably the only person more famous). He then went to Wake Forest and was a dominant player in the early 90s ACC. Though he was never a star in the NBA, Rodgers did average over 10 points per game for his career, was the 2000 Sixth-Man of the Year and was on a Nets team that went to the NBA finals.
Since retiring, he moved back to Durham and started working for the City of Durham’s Public Works Department operating heavy machinery. He wasn’t doing it because he was broke but because he just loved driving huge trucks. He was the girls basketball coach at Rogers-Herr Middle School in Durham, where my brother and sister went to sixth grade. He also set up an internet computer lab at a low-income housing project in Durham. If you lived in Durham, you could count on seeing him around every now and again. He even had a conversation with my brother when he (my brother) was working at a local movie theater in high school.
Rodney Rogers is a hero to lots of people in Durham. He grew up in a tougher part of town, he went to the black high school that has long been one of the worst schools in the area and yet rose to attend a terrific school at Wake Forest and made millions playing in the NBA. From the time my family moved to Durham in 1996, we immediately learned of efforts Rogers was making in the community and money he was putting back into the neighborhoods where he grew up. There are two Durhams: one is Duke, its hospital and the technological and pharmaceutical jobs that allow for many white folks to live very well. The other is mostly black, urban and often passed over by those previously mentioned groups. Rodney Rogers was certainly one person who never missed a chance to give back to that latter community.
Now in Atlanta starting his rehab, Rogers has a long way to go to be even close to healthy. There is a good chance he’ll never walk again, be able to feed himself, dress himself or even sit up on his own. Thankfully he is a millionaire so his family is not in trouble and they have the resources to get him the best possible care. But there are a lot of people in Durham who have seen their hero fall and it’s a sad day. Here’s wishing a full recovery for one of Durham’s native sons and most generous givers of time, money and life.