March is basketball nirvana for me. High school tournaments fill large arenas with fans, pep bands and dreams of a trip to state, while top seeded college teams and Cinderella hopefuls push for a national championship. My love of basketball and my career in public relations seem to be inextricably connected. Both were built on solid coaching, fundamentals and hustle. After earning my degree in journalism, I cut my teeth in small market TV news, covering crimes and courts, school boards and features. I chased deadlines, gained experience and put new skills to the test. On the court, my high school school playing days were over, but I searched for a way to stay in the game.
After seven years in TV I switched to public relations. I knew what kind of PR person I wanted to be, based on the myriad interactions I had with them as a journalist. I started with a short stint at a large PR firm, then landed a media relations role at a large hospital and clinic system. I pitched incredible patient care stories and the media were happy to gobble them up.
This was about the time I discovered a regular Sunday game of pick-up basketball. Many of us, but not all, had previous playing experience. We recognized our physical limitations, but each played to his strengths. I preferred to play fast, hustling for loose balls, running the fast break and being quicker than my opponent.
As a media relations manager, I broadened my skills, played to my strengths and built a record of success for more than 16 years. But a feeling of restlessness settled in. I grew tired of the familiar. Change was coming.
On the Sunday before New Year’s Eve in 2012, playing with many of the guys I first met more than a decade earlier, I dribbled up the court quickly looking for an open teammate. Suddenly a defender blocked my path, forcing me to stop more quickly than expected. My left knee buckled awkwardly as I crumpled to the floor in pain and disbelief. A month later I underwent ACL surgery. Basketball was over for at least nine months. Then, barely 10 days after surgery, I flew out for a final interview with a major medical device company.
My new external communications job required me to learn the industry and master the company product portfolio. Meanwhile, physical therapy was grueling. I threw myself into my work and my recovery. Little by little, I found my footing on the job and in PT. I wrote news releases, pitched trade reporters and collaborated with marketing on product launches. My knee got stronger, too. I worked on agility, balance and muscle strength. Basketball was coming back into focus. I began to play again, with my doctor’s approval. Back on the court, I tried to be the hustle player I once was.
Six weeks later, it happened again. While attempting a fast break lay-up I tried to maneuver around a taller player, but my knee had a different idea. I felt a twist, a frightening wobble, and then a stabbing pain. My surgically repaired ACL was torn for the 2nd time.
At work, I began to feel the grind in my third year. My long commute was taking a toll. My family felt further away and work began to feel less fulfilling. Three months after my injury, a new surgeon performed ACL revision surgery. A far more challenging physical therapy regimen triggered new goals and new thinking about my journey on and off the court. I needed to find a sustainable pace. One that would preserve my body and mind. Change would be difficult, but necessary.
I returned to basketball more than a year later. I sported a high-tech knee brace and a new attitude. I resolved to be a different player, focusing more on staying healthy and staying in the game. Diving to the floor, blocking a bigger player’s drive to the basket or making hard, lateral cuts to get open were less important than staying injury-free and enjoying the camaraderie of teammates and friends.
I left my medical device job a couple of months later and launched my own independent practice. I now set my own pace and enjoy a closer connection to my wife and children. Like basketball, my passion for public relations and telling a great story hasn’t gone away. But my transition from corporate PR to freelance consultant has forever changed the way I play the game.